The welfare and future of asylum seekers in Australia have been very contentious contemporary issues. Findings based on content analysis of media releases in 2001 and 2002 reveal the unrelentingly negative way in which the federal government portrayed asylum seekers. While the government's negative tenor was constant during the study period, the specific terms of reference altered, from 'threat' through 'other', to 'illegality' and to 'burden'. The negative construction of asylum seekers was clearly mutable. Analysis of newspaper reporting during the same period indicates that the media largely adopted the negativity and specific references of the government. The media dependence upon government statements and spokespersons in part explains this relation. The findings generally support the 'propaganda model' that holds a pessimistic view of the news media's critical abilities. However, the media departed somewhat slightly from the government's unchanging stance following some key events and revelations. Clearly, there is scope for disrupting the flow of negative constructions from government to media, and ultimately to audiences.