Final Assessment – Media Analysis Article 2 – Elizabeth Succar – Th12


Elizabeth Succar



Maternal love is a powerful force. It can give a woman the ability to sacrifice for her children with out a second thought  and also neglect to have a second thought all together.

Sally Faulkner is a prime example of a mother acting blindly out of desperation for her children and this is certainly the way the entire child recovery operation gone wrong, which she was the centre of, has been depicted across the media.

Faulkner, a 60 minutes news crew and a recovery team from CARI (Child Abduction Recovery International), lead by Adam Whittington, all became a part of the plight of a mother who wanted her children back. Or at least this is the way most media outlets would have you see it.

No one can dispute the unfair treatment Sally Faulkner received at the hands of her estranged husband Ali Elamine when he went to Lebanon with his children to visit his parents, for what was supposed to be two weeks, and later  announced he and his children were not returning.

Despite the fact that no able and loving mother deserves to lose her children with out warning and for no valid reason, it is also unfair that Australian media has purely depicted this story in a way that makes Faulkner’s and the actions of Chanel 9 OK because they were those of a mother driven by desperation.

This “wronged and desperate mother” angle, combined with the undertones of racism, sexism and lack of recognition for the absence of consideration of the children across the media makes for a fairly slanted representation of the entire recovery gone wrong.

One particular article written in the Sydney Morning Herald by Julie Szego, 60 Minutes: Who are the real victims in the abduction story?, focuses on this with particular emphasis on the fact that neither Faulkner nor her ex-husband were victims in this situation but their children would have suffered greatly.

Although the article has a slight murmur of racism and uses this situation as a general warning against mixed-race marriages, it definitely raises some valid points about the neglect of the media in condemning Faulkner’s actions as selfish and ill considered.

“His was a deeply violent act against his children and their mother….Alas, this is a genre we know well: a cross-cultural marriage gone wrong, a woman outmanoeuvred by a man who once seemed charming and exotic, a foreign country where females struggle for equality before the law.

Szego instantly paints Elamine as the villain in the situation, describing his actions as “deeply violent”. Yes, he was a villain but she has over-generalised the situation by appealing to analogy in reference to “cross-cultural marriages” as a territory that should not be explored.

The unfair representations here are clear. a deeply violent act vilifies Elamine’s actions more than what is called for. A deeply unjust act? Yes. Violent? No.

Racism in this article shines through in reference to cross-cultural marriages gone wrong, with the failure to recognise the millions that have gone right.

Sexism is evident in the painting of Faulkner being “outmanoeuvred” as a woman by a man, rather than simply balancing the blame by stating that Elamine was cunning and Faulkner was far too trusting.

The article exhibits the faults of both parties, but attempts to push western ideals onto a country that has a different cultural and moral standard.

It is inaccurate and far too general to say that “females struggle for equality before the law”. This by a western standard.

It fails to recognise the context of a cultural and religious system that, although is foreign to a western worldview, is not necessarily wrong.   

Lebanon is probably the most progressive country in the Middle East in terms of women’s rights or human rights, however, it is patriarchal.

This means when it comes to family law the father will be favoured. How is this any different from how mother’s are favoured in Western systems?

It is by reversing this depiction that the media has offered that it becomes clear that most representations of this story have positioned their readers to side with the mother, Sally Faulkner.

This is not to say that this is wrong. Faulkner certainly was wronged and was definitely a mother driven by desperation but most coverage of her story neglects to highlight that this was a catalyst to her acting blindly, disrespectfully and illegally yet she is almost championed for what she did.

It is questionable whether a father would be given the same coverage were the roles reversed.

Szego writes,

“Would audiences similarly cheer on a father in the same situation? Or would seizing his children commando-style from their mother be seen as an attack on Mother nature herself?…In this case the father is the villain.”

It is arguable that father’s are undervalued in the western family model. Mother’s are predominately  favoured in family law situations and even things as simple as television commercials for kids products are seen through the lens of a mother.

So, what if we lived in a society where father’s played this part? Even now, according to the British Foreign Office, globally about 70 percent of abducting parents were mothers. Can it be true that these acts are seen as protective of the children because it is the mother committing them.

An article written by Clancy Overell for The Betoota Advocate, Lebanese TV Crew Shot Dead Attempting To Kidnap Brisbane School Kids, offers an interesting and thought provoking role reversal perspective.

“But Thwarted fatherly love doesn’t rate especially well; mostly, theirs is a quiet anguish.”

Szego writes, again highlighting that it is the maternal that is favoured above the paternal in our society.

This positions the reader in a view that sees wild actions fuelled by desperation as acceptable, because they were those of a mother, while father’s are doomed to deal with such situations “quietly”, and should one of them dare to act out of fatherly love, the scrutiny of them by the media would not be the same as the pity that was granted to Faulkner.

In an article written by the Huffington Post, Sally Faulkner On Her Final Moments With Her Children, by Emily Brooks, has gone a step further in positioning the reader with pity for Faulkner, by referencing Elamine as her “estranged husband”, rather than the children’s father, arguably making it seem like he has not rights to these children that are just as much his as Faulkner’s.

“The children now remain in Lebanon with Faulkner’s estranged husband, Ali Elamine”

This subconsciously creates a vast distance between Elamine’s and his children, while continually encouraging condolence for Faulkner.

What added to this pity that the media has sold? Perhaps the fact that Elamine was foreign.

“I wonder if such stories work, even subconsciously, as moral showdowns between East and West and cautionary tales for women about adventurous romances….in an increasingly globalised world, caution has its place.”

Szego assumes a readership that is of western decent. Perhaps as a justification she’s appealed to the ethics of it all, after all, since the morals of the East are different, it must be a showdown with those of the West. An “us against them”.

Then again, acknowledging that the East has morals is acknowledging that they have a legal system to match, one that Faulkner and the 60 minutes crew of channel 9 probably should have adhered to so as to not have the morals of the West questioned. Yet the media choses to ignore this monstrous little detail.

Then there’s the fear-laden language. “Cautionary tales” and “adventurous romances” She writes, as though what is different is an adventure with dangerous connotations.

The warrant here? That we should all just stick to our own kind. Encourage the fearfulness of what we don’t know because after all it’s safer not to be “adventurous” as foreign people aren’t like us.

While Szego’s article does fit in to the over-all trend of victimising Faulkner rather than pointing out that she was treated unjustly and then highlighting her wrongs in response to this, it does have one redeeming quality, that the rest of the media has failed to recognise. It acknowledges the emotional turmoil of the children.

“…Yes, there are two victims here.” Szego writes,

“But they’re not the parents.”

In the spirit of appealing to parental love and maternal desperation, Szego has highlighted that the children are who have suffered most here.

At the hands of both their parents, who acted selfishly at different points, they would have been subject to a plethora of emotions ranging from confusion, to guilt, to just plain old sadness.

Yet the media coverage of the issue barely mentions the children unless in reference to their mother trying to desperately recover them. A selfish act in itself, which Faulkner herself acknowledges as “selfish” and “not worth it” on ABC’s ‘Australian Story’.

Despite this,  Mia Freedman’s article for MamaMia, Sally Faulkner is living every mother’s worst nightmare., continues in the trend of sensationalising an already emotional story by vilifying the father and victimising the mother.

“There’s no greater fear I have as a mother than being forcibly separated from my children. It’s the stuff of nightmares. And Sally Faulkner, a suburban girl from Brisbane, has been living her nightmare – the nightmare of every mother – for more than a year now.”

Freedman is right, any mother, like Faulkner, would be in a living hell after being forcibly separated from their children and Freedman is speaking to an audience that can resonate with this. However, just in case there were any readers doubtful of the torment, Freedman has used fear-laden language and heavily appealed to emotion to encourage compassion for Faulkner. 

“Her ex-husband, Ali Elamine never even wanted children. When Sally fell pregnant to the charismatic man with the Californian accent she met in Dubai while working as part of the Emirates cabin crew, she says he begged her not to have the baby. She was 22 and she refused to end her pregnancy.”

Similar to the article from The Huffington Post, Freedman has distanced Elamine from the children by referencing him as Faulkner’s ex-husband.

Pointing out that he “never wanted children” and “begged her not to have the baby” appeals to emotions and ethics, but it can be fairly argued that it is completely irrelevant.

Millions of people are not ready to have children when they are faced with pregnancy and the prospect of parenthood. They set into panic mode and fear can cause people to say and do things that are ill-considered and sometimes even un-true (see Sally Faulkner and 60 minutes crew’s botched child recovery operation).

However, when the panic settles and the fear subsides, millions of people also step up and accept the responsibilities that come with parenthood. It can not be disputed that Elamine did this.

Faulkner, her family and friends have all attested to the fact that Elamine was a good father to his children and that the pair “co-parented well”, as seen on ABC’s Australian Story.

Thus, it is unfair for Freedman to position her audience to view Elamine as the villainous father who doesn’t care for his children and never wanted them and Faulkner as the brave 22 year old hero who carried out her pregnancy, when both have been excellent parents to the children post-birth and in reality that is really all that matters.

It’s that cheesy saying that goes something like, “actions speak louder than words”.

After all, who would go to the effort of removing their children from their home and take on the responsibility of solely caring for them if there was no real love there?

The article by Freedman is to promote a “no filter” interview with Faulkner. In reference to this, she writes:

“The hole in Sally’s life where her two eldest children should be is like a gaping wound. We both cried during this interview and there are times you can hear Sally’s distress. But we chose not to edit any of that out because this is what Ali Elamine has done to the mother of his children by abducting them from Australia and refusing to let them see or communicate with her.”

Highly emotive language that appeals to emotion, ethics and maternal love has been employed by Freedman here as a means of positioning the reader in line with the emotions of Faulkner.

Freedman has also painted Elamine as the sole perpetrator of any acts in this situation by writing “this is what Ali Elamine has done…”, however, context is ignored.

What were the events that lead to Ali Elamine making life changing decision to take his children to Lebanon and never return? Could it be argued that in a warped way he thought he was doing the right thing?

Freedman boils this down to Ali’s reaction to Sally finding love and moving on with some one else.

By many standards, this seems like an over reaction but taking into consideration Elamine’s cultural and religious context, he may have seen his children having another man as the predominant figure in their life as threatening and potentially not what is best for them.

When mother’s do outrageous things in the interest of their children it is revered, but no one in the media seems to consider that perhaps Elamine wanted the best for his children, and this wasn’t them being raised by another man and hence an over reactive measure occurred.

A father acting blindly out of love for his children. Just as Faulkner did.

While this certainly may not be the case, it is certainly not a perspective that has been considered although it probably should have been, in the interest of media coverage being balanced and unbiased.

“This is the reality of what happens when you have children with someone who lives in another country, especially a country that isn’t a signatory to the Hague Convention that prevents children from being abducted and kept from the custodial parent in exactly the way Ali Elamine and many other fathers AND mothers have done to kids who should legally be living in Australia.”

Like Szego, Freedman has used an over-generalisation. Yes, this is the “reality” of some people who marry from another country. It is NOT the reality of all so Freedman, Szego and the rest of the media should not make this unfair claim.

This also has a warrant that inter-racial marriages are doomed from the start. This can be inflammatory and create fear of the “different” in readers.

Not an encouraging prospect for a “globalised world”.

The author again assumes a readership that is reading through a lens of maternal love, as it is by a maternal and western standard that the “custodial parent” is the mother. In many countries, perhaps even Lebanon, it can be the father.

At the very least, Freedman has appealed to facts in acknowledging that mothers are also perpetrators of child abductions, insinuating that father’s can be victims too.

Freedman has also appealed to the morals of the matter by pointing out that these are kids who should “legally be living in Australia” and by their birth, yes, this is true. Although by Lebanon’s legal system this may be a different story and in contemplating the legality of things, again it should be noted that the array of domestic and international laws Faulkner and Chanel 9 have broken probably raise questions as to where the children should “legally” be living.

Maternal love is a powerful force that Sally Faulkner is loaded with. There is not a shimmer of doubt in all the darkness that this story holds that the woman behind the botched child recovery scandal was deeply wronged when her ex-husband took their children to Lebanon and decided not to return. This mother, in all her love acted in an ill-considered manner with the assistance of Channel 9 and CARI and entered a country, ignoring its laws, in an attempt to steal back her kids.    So, the media painted a devastating picture of a desperate mother and everyone felt compassion for Faulkner and anger for Elamine. While both these emotions are well deserved on both ends, it is a shame that Australian media has neglected to highlight that Sally Faulkner, 60 Minutes and CARI were wrong. It is not at all an unfair representation on behalf of the media to highlight the desperation of Faulkner and point out that this is what drove her, but in order for the coverage to have been balanced, it would have been necessary to highlight that they acted illegally and disrespectfully with a lack of consideration for the law in Lebanon and for Faulkner’s children, Lahela, 6 and Noah, 4. Perhaps it is in this sense that less compassion is warranted by the media, as if she had followed the proper legal steps, as advised by her lawyer, then she would have a far better chance of being reunited with her children than she ever will now. Thus it is fair to argue that the over all media coverage of this issue has been through a maternal lens and slightly slants away from all aspects of the story. That is to say that although Faulkner was a mother driven by desperation and love, it does not make what she did acceptable or ok but the media did not represent this.

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