As It Happens

Why this journalist quit Australia's Sky News after the New Zealand mosque shootings

"Over the past three years where I worked there, I could just see that there was more and more hatred, more and more division, more and more misinformation," says Rashna Farrukh.

Rashna Farrukh says late-night programming on the station was stoking 'hatred' and 'division'

Rashna Farrukh, 23, quit her job as a junior liason with Sky News in Australia after the New Zealand mosque shootings. (Submitted by Rashna Farrukh)

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When Rashna Farrukh was working at Sky News in Australia, she said commentators would be polite to her face, then turn around and make disparaging remarks about Muslims on air.

But it was last week's deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, that finally pushed the 23-year-old Muslim woman to quit her job as a junior liaison at the station. 

"Over the past few years, I was playing a role — no matter how small — in a network whose tone I knew would help legitimize radical views present in the fringes of our society," she wrote for ABC, Australia's public broadcaster.

"Now, I am done being a part of something I do not stand for, and I urge other young journalists to do the same."

In an emailed statement, Sky News said it respects Farrukh's decision, but that it is "committed to debate and discussion, which is vital to a healthy democracy."

Farrukh spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about why she decided to leave. Here is part of their conversation. 

These attacks on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, shocked the world. But for you, they pushed you to quit your job at Sky News. Why is that?

I worked at Sky News for three years, and I specifically worked at Sky News, what we call "after dark" here in Australia — where, you know, the morning is full of journalists who are talking about the news and current affairs, but after dark there's commentators who come on air and basically just talk about their opinions.

And over the past three years when I worked there, I could just see that there was more and more hatred, more and more division, more and more misinformation.

And I don't mean just about, you know,Islamophobia but about, you know, even climate change. There's stuff about LGBTQI people. And I could just see that it was getting worse and worse.

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      What is it about the attack on Friday that finally was the last straw for you? How was that being covered by your your news network?

      They aired part of the footage — the live footage — which I found really disturbing. They didn't air the inside of the mosque but, you know, I think that the outside of the mosque when he's driving to the mosque, if anyone has seen it, is just as disturbing because of the amount of, like, calmness and normalness that he adopts at that time.

      [Editor's Note: Early on in the coverage of the mosque shootings, CBC News Network aired a short clip from the alleged gunman's video before the shooting began. CBC is carefully considering the use of images and video from this attack, and is only using this material sparingly in the interest of helping our readers understand what happened and why.]

      There are [commentators] you've mentioned in your comments. [Australian Conservatives founder] Cory Bernardi, a man who called on the government to remove "offend" and "insult" from your [Racial] Discrimination Act. Those who insisted that there was a war being declared against white culture. For you yourself, I mean, as a Muslim, what was it like ... to hear these these comments being made?

      When I first started, I was more shocked. I think you can become really desensitized really quickly, and I think that's what's happening to a lot of people who watch these kinds of shows, or watch any kind of mass media which allows for these views to be shown and not criticized or questioned.

      For me, what was most shocking — and I talk a little bit about this in the article that I wrote — was they were nice to me just before they would step into the studio, and they would start talking about people who are just like me.

      So I really wasn't sure what they actually believed, whether they were saying what they believed or whether they were just doing that for more views and more votes.

      Did you take up any of your concerns with Sky News? 

      I thought I would be fired if I said something about this, if I spoke up in any way. So, no, I unfortunately I didn't say anything.

      The spokesperson from Sky News has said that they respect your decision to leave, but, and this is a quote, "As a news and national affairs broadcaster, Sky News is committed to debate and discussion, which is vital to a healthy democracy." What do you say to that?

      I believe in healthy debate.

      When it comes to things like immigration, I can understand that people have two different sides. They take a pro-immigration stand and an anti-immigration stand.

      When you put someone like Cory Bernardi or [One Nation Party founder] Pauline Hanson, and they say that immigration increases crime, that's not a stance. It's actually just misinformation. It's not true. And they shouldn't be allowed to say stuff like that without being questioned.

      That's not debate and that's not what democracy is.

      You're out of a job now. What are you going to do?

      We'll see. I think I'm going to be freelancing for a while. Because I still have uni. Luckily, I have parents who are very supportive. I can understand why people in my position can't actually leave this kind of work because it's hard to support yourself. The cost of living is really high, especially in Canberra ... Hopefully when I graduate in July I'll have a proper job lined up. 

      Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.