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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Corby stirs Australia's 'dark side'
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Australia is beginning to assess the fall-out from the extraordinary public anger at the jailing last month of 27-year-old Schapelle Corby.

The former beauty therapy student was sentenced to 20 years in jail by an Indonesian court for drug trafficking.

Poster in Australia
There have been calls for Australia's leadership to intervene
The verdict unleashed what the Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne described as "a tide of vitriol, racism and tribal prejudice" and there are now concerns that Australia's reputation, and its relationship with Jakarta, has suffered.

Contempt was heaped on just about everyone involved in the case and many that were not.

Some Australians called for a tourist boycott of Bali and others demanded that aid to Indonesia's tsunami victims be recalled.

One talk-back radio host described the Balinese judges who sentenced Corby as "monkeys".

There are signs that Australia is finally emerging from this frenzy and that the one-eyed coverage is being replaced by more considered reporting.

"It has not been journalism's finest hour by a long shot," said Chris Nash, the director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.

Schapelle Corby - young, attractive and in deep trouble - was in many ways an ideal figure for the media.

Erin and Janelle, hairdressing students, Sydney
I think she is innocent. She didn't deserve to go to jail and it's wrong
Erin, student, Sydney

"It was a bit like Princess Di, in that this person was a real focus of public concern because of her flaws and because she was very human," said Mr Nash.

Commercial radio personality Derryn Hinch put it more bluntly.

"Why has it become a national issue? I know why. Doe-eyed, pretty, white, Australian, female with big boobs," Hinch wrote on his official website.

Even Prime Minister John Howard waded in.

"You might argue that the public was angry because it was given a lot of spectacular coverage in the media," Mr Howard said. "There's no doubt that for a combination of reasons the trial of Schapelle Corby has attracted enormous interest. And it's not just a media creation."

Mr Nash believes the catapulting of a seemingly ordinary young Australian into a drug trafficking nightmare did strike a chord.

"Parents were saying to their kids 'that could have been you on a holiday in Bali'," he said.

Outrage dimming

The Howard government has many reasons for wanting to damp down the hysteria. Its relations with Indonesia are warmer than they have been for years, and Mr Howard wants to promote Australia's political and economic role in Asia.

An opinion poll this week in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that public outrage has softened. It reported that 47% of Australians believe Corby is not guilty, a figure down significantly on previous polls.

Sixteen-year-old hairdressing students Erin and Janelle remain convinced, however, that Corby has been wrongfully convicted.

"I think she is innocent. She didn't deserve to go to jail and it's wrong," said Erin, speaking outside Sydney's Central Railway station.

"Every time Schapelle's case comes on the news I watch it all, and hopefully she won't be locked up for much longer," added Janelle.

Security scares at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra and the daubing of pro-Corby graffiti at Western Australia's Parliament House in Perth suggests that this is a story that will not go quietly.

Schapelle Corby looks back at her family during her trial in a Denpasar court on the Indonesian resort island of Bali Friday, May 27, 2005.
Many believe Corby is popular because she is young and attractive
Some academics believe the case of Schapelle Corby has highlighted a sinister side to Australia, linked to a lurking suspicion of Indonesia.

"Among older generations, Australian culture tends to be xenophobic," explained Keith Foulcher, a lecturer in South East Asian Studies at Sydney University.

"It is a legacy of the Second World War when Australia was threatened with invasion from the north, and for an older generation, that is difficult to wipe out."

The avalanche of criticism of Indonesia has left Mr Foulcher sad and worried.

"For someone like myself, who has devoted an entire career to teaching about Indonesia and expanding awareness in Australia, it is a terrible blow to everything we have worked for and it could take years to recover," he said grimly.


SEE ALSO:
Bacteria alert at Indonesia mission
01 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australian guilty on drugs charge
27 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Schapelle Corby verdict
27 May 05 |  In Pictures


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