State Library of Victoria, 4pm

I am passionate about using media to create social change, as I know it’s power to influence large sections of the community and mobilise social change.

Australia has over 40 percent first and second generation migrants and an indigenous history stretching well over 40,000 years, but sadly,  watching TV and reading  newspapers, you might never know.

This week, I attended the Spotlight on Stereotypes media forum at the State Library, which drew together a panel of experts to discuss media stereotyping and its impact on multicultural communities. The panel included Margaret Simons from Crikey, Paul Cutler from  SBS television, comedian Aamer Rahman from Fear of a Brown Planet,  university professor Andrew Jackubowicz, African community leader Dr Andre Renzaho and human rights lawyer Brian Walters.

Indira Naidoo, one of Australia’s best known broadcasters with over 20 years experience, gave the key note address and encouraged multicultural communities to ‘get even’ with the media.

She suggested practical steps communities can take to better represent themselves in the media, as well as become a part of mainstream media networks. Below are extracts of Indira’s speech, which highlight these important steps.

Australia’s media now

Television is all about winners. To be a real winner, you have to be the person asking questions not the person answering them.

When you are part of the media, those deeply held stereotypes, more often you don’t even know you have, take on a much more sinister power. You now have a state-wide, national or international platform to influence or indoctrinate others.

We all know the selection of a word or an image on national television can ignite outrage, racial backlashes and sometimes even violence. But outside an SBS or ABC newsroom, there is little genuine discussion or understanding about the ramifications of what is being broadcast.

The media loves conflict. We all saw numerous examples of this with the media’s coverage of the children overboard scandal, the Cronulla riots, the Haneef affair, and of course here in Melbourne with the ongoing attacks against Indians.

There are many reasons why these issues get covered in the media, in the way they do. I think one of the often overlooked contributing factors is the lack of people from different backgrounds in the media.

Getting multicultural communities in the media

Attracting diversity of media practitioners is part of the battle, in addressing the stereotyping of multicultural communities

A robust media is one that has many voices from many backgrounds. This sadly does not happen in Australia. The vast majority of working journalists are from Anglo-Celtic middle-class urban backgrounds, the only noticeable change that has occurred in my 20 years in the media is the proliferation of women in the media. Even then there are few women in senior editorial positions.

The people who run the media get to write history, so why wouldn’t you want a slice of that. Owning or running local community newspapers is a good place to start, but you need to make a move into the national mainstream media.

Make it easy for the media to tell your story

I’d like to see more community leaders with better media training. Sending through a ten page email to a news room at 5pm to respond to an issue just isn’t going to cut the mustard; you are just going to be ignored. So, I recommend you:

  1. Get in early in the day
  2. Have an articulate person who can be interviewed
  3. Prepare some statements or news grabs that are punchy and memorable
  4. Be prepared with pictures and images

Do all the hard work for the journalist and you automatically increase your chances of getting on-air. You need to stay calm, focused and on-message and realise that no modern wars or verbal skirmishes can ever be won without the media on your side.

How to get your message across on television

Infiltrating the media is only part of the battle for multicultural communities. The media isn’t going to listen to you just because you have something to say. You need to tell your story in a media friendly way. Television needs:

  1. Colour and movement, pictures, and images
  2. Articulate, passionate and intelligent spokespeople, or talent, as we call them in the trade.
  3. Simple messages that can be relayed in one and a half minutes.

Choose the best person to tell your story

The other issue that multicultural groups need to grapple with is that their elected leader or elder is not always the best media face for the community. The media like spokespeople who are:

  1. Articulate
  2. Photogenic
  3. Warm
  4. Youthful

When you lack resources or political power as most multicultural groups do, then you are going to have to be smarter than the other guys if you want to have any chance of being listened to.

Use social media sites to your advantage

There are many cheap an effective ways of doing this. Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook don’t cost a cent; Barack Obama proved in his successful bid for the White House that social media could be harnessed to bypass traditional media outlets and reach large groups of disaffected voters.

Timing is everything

As with all things, timing is everything. Spend some time learning how the news cycles work and use it to your advantage. Remember a newspaper, television news bulletin, or a radio show has a certain amount of time to fill each hour night or day.

Your story has to compete with everything else that is happening in the world in that hour and on that day. Much of this is unpredictable, such as the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. But many news events run along a calendar.

Bad days to access the media are:

  1. When big sport, economic or entertainment events are also scheduled
  2. Avoid the federal budget week, footy’s grand final weekend, the academy awards when an Aussie is nominated

Good days to access the media are weekends, especially Saturday, they’re often termed ‘slow news’ days. This is the time you’ll often have little competition from pollies, businesses and unions, who have clocked off for the week.

Democracy in Action

For democracy to work effectively, all citizens need to have equal access to being heard. Use your camera phones, get pictures, get images, get evidence, be a participant, be a player, use guerrilla tactics. Put aside you cultural and traditional hesitancies, and exercise your right to be heard. Have confidence that what you say matters.

Media power in this country is tipped heavily in favour of the interests of the rich and powerful, but this is sadly the reality nearly everywhere in the world. The best way of redressing this imbalance is not to get angry, but to get even.

What do you think of the way the media deals with different communities? Is it fair? Your comments are welcome.