The 24-hour news cycle is a minefield. News stories seem to leave you at the very edge of your seats for what will happen next. It feeds our anxious state to remain glued to our television sets round the clock, the world in a constant state of disrepair.
In the context of Australia, mass media conglomerates dominate the scene making it difficult for anyone to understand and decode our press landscape.
Well, to make sense of it all, a forum event ‘Breaking or Making News’ was held on Thursday 19 April at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to unpack the questions on how the media approaches issues concerning race and multiculturalism.
Sharing their mass media experiences, the event chaired by the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Ms Helen Kapalos brought together the Editor of The Age, Alex Lavelle; lawyer and social entrepreneur Zione Walker-Nethenda; Vice President of the Islamic Council Victoria Adel Salman and SBS reporter and presenter Sarah Abo to facilitate a dialogue between media, communities, advocates and researchers on the topic of race and multiculturalism in Australia.
The event was organised in collaboration with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Victorian Multicultural Commission, and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The focus was on issues related to the harm of racial profiling on communities, the responsibility of media which can too often amplify the negative views and the importance of holding media to account.
The Commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Ms Kristen Hilton spoke about how newly-arrived ethnic communities are adversely affected by media misrepresentation.
“The linking of race and crime is nothing new,” said Ms Hilton.
Unfortunately, most newly arrived migrant communities have experienced some form of racism in Australia. Ms Hilton went on to explain that this has been experienced by the Lebanese, Vietnamese and even the Irish community during the time of the first fleet.
“The way youth crime has been reported (involving members of the Sudanese community) in Victoria has been extremely disappointing. Young people (from newly-arrived communities) are constantly battling stereotypes.”
Lawyer and social entrepreneur Zione Walker-Nethenda explained that these stereotypes are dangerous as they undermine the contributions which migrant communities make to Australian society and disregard a young person’s sense of belonging.
“The media is responsible to inform, rather than inflame” however this is not always the case. “It makes it hard to decipher the spin from the reality,” said Zione.
Referring to media, SBS news reporter and presenter Sarah Abo said that when it comes to understanding and deciphering the facts, “proximity is power.” This is especially true in the age of social media.
Nevertheless, the public should be given the opportunity “to form alternative viewpoints” and “should not be isolated in silos”.
“The truth tends to lie somewhere in the middle,” said Sarah.
“Not all media is fair,” said editor of The Age, Alex Lavelle. The media certainly made some “poor decisions” in its reporting of the issue of Australia’s African migrant communities.
In a recent statement by the co-founder of the #AfricanGangs campaign says coverage of so-called street gangs of South Sudanese youths has been a “nightmare” for the community, akin to “media terrorism”.
“Today, we have access to tools to be more hateful. (What we are seeing around the world, i.e.) Trump supporters did not become manufactured overnight,” said Vice President of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Adel Salman.
Overall, the Commissioners expressed their hopes to contribute to a better relationship between media and multicultural communities.
Victorian Race Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Dr Tim Soutphommasane expressed his view encouraging the public to speak up and hold media to account.
“Don’t underestimate, don’t discount your voice,” said Tim.
“Victoria has some of the strongest anti-racism legislation” and yet, the racism we come to see today is “subtle” but “is (still) holding everyone back,” said Ms Hilton. Tackling these issues is ultimately necessary to foster community harmony and resilience.
SBS reporter and presenter Sarah Abo shared her pleasure and appreciation for those that were able to take a positive spin on the media’s hateful take on African gangs.
The campaign was a very successful way to fight back against the negative media coverage, which was grouping gatherings of young South Sudanese people into ‘gangs’.
All we can do, she advised is continue to understand the greater context which lies within the story.
“(Ultimately,) we must all become more informed,” advises Sarah.