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Australian media should unite to promote cultural diversity

By Priscilla Brice - posted Friday, 6 December 2019


A month ago we saw unprecedented cooperation in the media industry to support press freedom and fight back against government attempts to penalise whistleblowing and criminalise some journalist practices. We look forward to the day when the industry is as supportive in coming together to advocate for diversity as they have been for press freedom.

As the press freedom campaign highlighted, what we read or watch in the news affects the type of society we live in. It's been nearly 14 years since the Cronulla race riots, yet the racist media commentary that arguably contributed to the resentment and xenophobia towards the Lebanese community prior to the riots is still extremely common. Many other minority communities feel the brunt of it today.

Amedia monitoring report recently conducted by All Together Now found that a majority (57 percent) of race-related opinion pieces in the mainstream media over the past year were racist. Muslim Australians were the most frequently targeted, with more than a quarter (28 per cent) of the 281 media pieces sampled discussing Muslims and Islam in a negative way.

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Social commentators in the media reports we sampled expressed racist views in both overt and covert ways, deploying a range of tactics such as dog-whistling, decontextualisation and irony to target racial minorities. The report, Social Commentary and Racism in 2019, sampled 281 opinion pieces from mainstream Australian newspapers and most-watched current affairs programs over twelve months to April 2019.

The research shows we must do more as a society and as an industry to ensure that the media landscape values and represents people of all cultural backgrounds - both within the ranks of the media itself and in its reporting. Our findings add to alarm raised this year by others, includingTim Soutphommasane, Australia's former Race Discrimination Commissioner, who pointed out that the mainstream media has started presenting far-right commentators and ideas as part of conventional public debate.

One action that could really make a positive difference is to update the frameworks that regulate Australian media. If the media regulators are serious about balancing public interest with freedom of expression they must ensure that their frameworks protect Australian communities from covert racism in the same way that Human Rights laws do.

Now that media remains accessible for months and years after publication online, media regulators should also extend their time-frames for making complaints about racist or offensive material beyond the current 30 day limit.

Media organisations could move the needle by addressing diversity within their own ranks. In 2016, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) revealed that the average Australian media and entertainment employee was 27, male, Caucasian and living in Sydney's Eastern suburbs or the Inner West.

Our society has a responsibility to consistently address all forms of racism. There has been much research demonstrating that racism affects health and that its insidious impact starts early. As a first-of-its-kind study of racism in Australian schools this year found one in three students report being the victim of racial discrimination by their peers.

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A healthy, independent, and dynamic media landscape could improve the situation by giving diverse voices and opinions equal opportunity to share and express their views, helping people see issues from alternative perspectives and reducing stigmatisation and alienation.

We need the media to be free and we need the media to be diverse. By making theindustry more representative, and actively addressing the disproportionate level of power given to racist and discriminatory commentators, the media can do more to support a just, inclusive and healthy Australian society for all of us.

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About the Author

Priscilla Brice is the Founder and Managing Director of All Together Now, the only national not-for-profit organisation working solely to address racism in Australia. You can connect with Priscilla on LinkedIn at http://au.linkedin.com/in/priscillabw. Please see www.alltogethernow.org.au for further information about All Together Nows work.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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