A Radical Plan
feel maligned by 'the media'. The media, in truth, is the sum of many parts:
what's served up on Today Tonight or by some savagely populist
columnist in the News Ltd stable is different in tone and tenor from content
in a publication like The Age, where I work.
quality journalism is facing its own existential challenge in the digital age,
it's a luxury to remain in a part of the media which does not have a sideline
in vilification. On the whole, though, I accept that media in Australia does
not do diversity 'well'. Sudanese and other minority ethnic and religious
communities also tell me they feel the cold chill of media disfavour at times.
census demonstrated once again the diversity of the Australian population. In
contrast, the nation's newsrooms across multiple media remain stubbornly
monocultural. I'd say that's part of the problem. Stereotypes do abound. Too
much discussion around Muslim women, for example, over the past decade has
been mediated through the burqa - a mode of dress very few local Muslim women
At the same
time, Muslims need to be become less sensitive and more accessible. Cultivate
relationships with journalists and media outlets that will be fair. And that
does not just mean the news side of it. Recent Masterchef finalist
Amina Elshafei and comedians like Nazeem Hussain have done more to break down
barriers than the most earnest community spokespeople.
If you want
to influence the mainstream media culture my best advice is really simple: ‘participate,
participate, participate’. Show the diversity of the community. Don't
just rely on an ubiquitous few to speak for you. Resist becoming defensive.
Instead, become active on social media such as Twitter. Start a snappy blog.
The small stuff also matters. Write a letter to the editor if something annoys
you. Use talkback radio.... In a radical plan, hey, maybe even consider
applying to become a journalist?
from a career in law to enter journalism in the 1990s; mine has been a wholly
'mainstream' career as a news reporter. I have been a member of the Canberra
press gallery during the Paul Keating era, covered state politics memorably
during the era that former premier Jeff Kennett threw sand at journalists,
been at the former Woomera detention centre when asylum seekers staged a
journalistic path has also crossed that of Dame Edna, Robert de Niro, Geoffrey
Rush and Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (it turned out to be one of his
bad days, when he inquired whether indigenous people whom he met in North
Queensland still used spears). I was also part of The Age/Sydney Morning
Herald crisis reporting teams in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombings
and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka.
travels, I have encountered Muslims and their representative organisations.
But I've also not resiled from doing tougher stories involving Muslims, such
as covering aspects of the Benbrika terror plot that unfolded in the Melbourne
suburbs some years ago. I like to think my role helped shape a balanced
journalist takes you to many unusual places. One of the more interesting
experiences I've had was sparked at a function in 1998, when the diner next to
me mentioned that he'd heard a group of newly arrived Iraqi refugee families
had settled in a few towns in northern Victoria, Australia. He said that a
number of the women were pregnant and were having difficulty because they
lacked a female Arabic-speaking doctor.
fascinated by the story. The pictorial potential also intrigued me. Over the
next few weeks, I made contact with the Iraqi community in Shepparton, Cobram
and Kyabram. With their limited English and distrust of media scrutiny, they
were reticent. It took time to build trust. It helped to be a Muslim. No
one had to tell me that I needed to take a female photographer with me.
Over two days I interviewed more
than a dozen people, visited homes and observed a women-only English language
class in action. The most challenging part was to convince members of the
class to go into a wheat field to pose for the picture on a hot afternoon [see
effort was worth it. Helped by the striking image, the story which emerged
illustrated the texture and diversity of Muslim lives. And, importantly for
any working journalist, I got a page one story out of it!
women 'chilling out' in a Cobram field, northern Victoria, Australia, after
English classes in 1998:
Photographer - Sandy Scheltema, Fairfax Syndication.