We need diverse newsrooms, and ones that report ethically on race

With more than half of opinion pieces discussing race negatively portraying racial minorities, it's more important than ever to highlight the need for diverse newsrooms, explains Settlement Services International's Violet Roumeliotis.

There is a pressing need for greater diversity in our media and newsrooms. A report released this week shows more than half of opinion articles on the topic of race in Australia contain a negative portrayal of racial minorities.

The report from the University of Technology Sydney and All Together Now shows three newspapers were responsible for 91% of these articles and 96% were authored by people from European or Anglo-Celtic backgrounds. This is simply not good enough in 2019, when one in three Australians is born overseas.

Multiculturalism is part of our national identity. It is time the media got on board with this and began highlighting diverse voices and the positive stories happening in these communities.

At minimum, journalists and commentators must report ethically on race – upholding their own editorial checks and balances. As community members, we should rightly expect all editorial content – even opinion – to adhere to the core tenants of journalism: truth and accuracy.

Media representation and language directly affect public perceptions of minority communities. This has a trickle down effect on the everyday lives of individuals. It is something I have experienced myself, as a second generation Australian, and that I have seen affecting refugee and migrant communities in the 30 years I have worked in community services.

The absence of positive, fact-based opinion articles on the topic of race risks undermining the progress our country has made in forging a strong multicultural identity and fostering social cohesion in our communities.

What opinion writers and commentators seem to be missing is that attacks on racial minorities also run counter to public opinion. Some 82% of Australians believe immigrants improve Australian society by bringing new ideas and cultures, while fewer than one in 10 of us views immigration as the most important problem facing Australia today.

So what is the solution? While I wholeheartedly support the report’s recommendations to strengthen media regulatory frameworks, the heart of the matter is that we won’t see more positive stories on race and culturally and linguistically diverse communities until our newsrooms reflect the broader populace.

We need more journalists from within these communities who actively seek out positive stories. I’m talking about journalists like Pema Dolkar, who was recently awarded an Australian Migration and Settlement Award for her work covering an initiative in Sydney’s Northern Beaches where Tibetan refugees are learning how to safely navigate Australia’s picturesque waterways.

At a time when journalists around the country are fighting for press freedom, it is critical that we acknowledge and recognise the positive contributions journalists like Pema make to our society. But so too is it critical that we call out commentators who are masking bigotry and racism as ‘opinion’.

Along with public condemnation, we also need the Australian Press Council to revise its binding statement of general principles to require publications not to place gratuitous emphasis on race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin and country of origin.

All Australians – including public figures and commentators – have a shared responsibility to promote inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. We can’t do this if we continue enabling unethical, negative profiling of racial minorities.

Violet Roumeliotis is the CEO of community organisation and social business Settlement Services International. She also sits on the federal government’s Settlement Services Advisory Council, the board of national migrant and refugee women’s coalition, the Harmony Alliance, and the Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity ― a group of leaders committed to improving the representation of cultural diversity in leadership in Australia


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