Tag Archives: media

Politicians, media and refugees (ABJ2 Reflective Blog Post)

28 Nov

As part of the final semester of my journalism degree, my broadcast class changed the usual curriculum of practicing live-crosses and auto-cue reading, to producing a cohesive two hour radio program on refugees in collaboration with the ABC and Canberra Refugee Support.

Working in pairs, we set off to discover the untold local refugee stories in an attempt to cut through some of the stigma and political rhetoric that currently surrounds refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. I teamed up with Joe Prevedello with an aim to find a political angle of asylum seekers and refugees that isn’t heard in the mainstream media.

Prior Perspectives

As a videographer in the Press Gallery, I have been present at countless press conferences this year where the discussion of asylum seekers and refugees was completely de-humanised. There was a lot of talk of numbers, figures and ‘processing’ them like they’re a piece of meat, but hardly any of names, occupations or their reasons for leaving their countries.

I’ve been frustrated and angry with the politicians arguing about the Malaysia ‘Solution’ or the Naru ‘Solution’, like the legal arrival of these people seeking safety to our shores is a ‘problem’ that needs to be fixed. The Government’s plan this year was instead of handling the ‘problem’ of these ‘nasty queue jumpers’  ourselves, we’ll pay millions of dollars to ship them off to Malaysia, who haven’t signed the UN Refugee Convention, for them to deal with. Thankfully, in my opinion, the plan was foiled by a High Court challenge meaning asylum seekers will now have to be ‘processed’ in Australia, albeit in detention centres instead of being released into the community.

A recent study done by Monash University  ‘It Would Be Okay If They Came Through the Proper Channels’: Community Perceptions and Attitudes Towards Asylum Seekers in Australia’ (2011, Mckay, Thomas, & Kneebone)  found that “calling asylum seekers ‘illegals’ and ‘queue jumpers’ dehumanises people and their experience”.

Furthermore, The Refugee Crisis and Fear: Populist politics and media discourse (2004. Gale,P.) says that “while representing boat people as ‘queue jumpers’ engenders public support for a policy of mandatory detention, such a policy is also seen to breach international human rights standards.”

You don’t have to think back too far to remember when these racial tensions spilled over into violence, the 2005 Cronulla Riots is a perfect example of racial vilification in Australia.

Both of these articles argue that the language that politicians and media use to describe asylum seekers and refugees sub-consciously de-humanises refugees and instills in the public that these are people to fear, promoting the fallacies of an ‘orderly queue’ and ‘process’ that many Australians believe. These beliefs were documented by ‘Go Back To Where You Came From‘ (2011, SBS) where Australians were challenged on their beliefs about the refugee process.

I personally hadn’t had much face to face contact with refugees, but there was a large population of refugees at my high school, and I remember a Sudanese girl reading a haunting poem about her life in year 10. It brought most of the class to tears and provided a harsh reality check for me, whose biggest problem at the time was whether a boy liked me or not.

On Assignment for #reportingrefugees 

Joe and I decided that we would try to find a politician that came to Australia as a refugee and do a profile piece on them. It was a harder task than expected, as refugees are under-represented in politics. Eventually we decided on Steve Doszpot, who is a local Canberra politician who came to Australia from Hungary in the 1950’s as a young boy. I didn’t know much about the history of Hungary after World War 2, and was surprised and alarmed at the number of people that left Hungary during the revolution, estimated to be over 200, 000.

It was interesting to listen to Steve’s story and how his family adjusted to life in Australia, and the struggle to ‘fit in’ without being able to speak the language. The majority of my classmates had recent refugees as their talent, so I found it interesting to hear these same themes being repeated in almost all stories. It shows that as a society, we haven’t progressed beyond the racial discrimination towards immigrants that has plagued our country since federation.

I was surprised to discover the restrictions placed on journalists who wish to visit detention centres, and the length that the Department of Immigration goes to to ensure that the people awaiting security checks and clearances in the centres do not contact the media. They argue that is due to their responsibility to protect the privacy of those seeking asylum. On the other hand, the media argues that these restrictions violate the freedom of the press, and the freedom of speech of the asylum seekers and that the conditions placed upon journalists wishing to go inside detention centres are worse than those of Guantanamo Bay.

Lessons from the field. 

I think Joe and I were in a lucky position compared to our classmates that over fifty years had passed since our talent was a refugee, and his memories weren’t as fresh or as confronting. This meant he was more comfortable to talk about his experiences, and he didn’t have to worry about the safety of any remaining family members overseas like some of the other talent involved in the project. This allowed for a very candid interview, and Steve was able to go into a large amount of detail about his family’s escape from Hungary.

Where it became challenging for us was trying to get past the Liberal Party lines about the current refugee policies in Australia. We had made it clear to Steve that we were also going to be discussing that issue, and it was disappointing that he stuck to the political rhetoric instead of addressing it on a personal level. Finally towards the end of the interview he gave us some more open answers about his personal opinions of the current policies, but I don’t think we pushed him far enough on that.

I found it was important to just let the talent tell their story, instead of continually interrupting with questions. It resulted in a more natural story line, and allowed the subject to add bits that they may have forgotten. I do think this was helped by Steve’s political media experience, so a less willing interview subject might have had to be probed a bit more. As a journalist it is easy to fall into the trap of ‘grab chasing’, and I learnt that the most important thing is the story behind the ‘grab’, not just the grab itself.

It was also frustrating that our interview with his wife and daughter wasn’t up to broadcast quality, as I think that other element to the story would have improved our final story immensely.

Overall, I really enjoyed working on this project. It has made me a more informed citizen, a more compassionate Australian and hopefully a better journalist. I think Australia needs to move away from the hype surrounding asylum seekers and refugees, and just get on with helping these people find a safe and happy home.


The Refugee Crisis and Fear: Populist politics and media discourse (2004. Gale,P.) Journal of Sociology

It Would Be Okay If They Came Through the Proper Channels’: Community Perceptions and Attitudes Towards Asylum Seekers in Australia’ (2011, Mckay, Thomas, & Kneebone) Journal of Refugee Studies.

Go Back To Where You Came From‘ (2011, SBS)

Let’s follow Guantanamo’s lead (2011, Sales, L.) ABC

United Nations Refugee Convention (1951, United Nations)


To tweet, or not to tweet?

13 May

You can say what you like about Twitter, but love it or hate it, it looks like it’s here to stay, at least for the next few years. The question is, as a journalist, should you embrace the Twitterverse? If you say yes, how should you use it? Strictly for business only? Or do you tweet about the ‘little things’ like whether you’ve had your latte for the day or if your bus driver smiles at you?

Opinion seems to be widely varied on this topic, even amongst my journalism teachers. Having made it to third year, I like to think I’m able to challenge my teachers views on this without running the risk of failing, so here goes.

I’ll start at the top of the academic hierarchal food chain with Professor Matthew Ricketson. As far as I know, he doesn’t have a twitter account. Without actually asked him about his stance on social media, I won’t put words in his mouth, but generally, actions speak louder than words.

Jason Wilson is next in the chain of command, as course convenor. He tweets every day and has over 2600 followers. His tweets cover links to news stories and he has a huge interaction with other journos and policy makers. He has been known to tweet about unpacking the dishwasher too. Jason also has a blog, which looks a little abandoned of late, which he says is due to busyness.

Lecturer Julie Posetti is an outspoken supporter of the use of social media and twitter by journalists. She is a prolific tweeter with over 7000 followers. She was the only teacher that included twitter as a compulsory assessment requirement for my journalism degree. Her tweetstream provides links to the news of the day, along with her personal opinions on pretty much everything. Her blog provides insights into what she thinks the future of journalism will look like, along with some personal comments about defamation threats against her by the editor of the Australian after she live tweeted a conference.

Print lecturer Crispin Hull is what you would call ‘old school’ in his views on social media. He doesn’t have a Twitter account, and has been spotted scoffing about my requirements to tweet for ABJ. He does have a blog though, which is more of an online portfolio than anything else. Interestingly for a traditional print journo, it’s the most up-to-date blog out of all my lecturers.

Tutors Eleri Harris and Scott Bridges are the youngest members of  staff, and are consistently tweeting and twitpic-ing their lives. They both have over 1000 followers on twitter and Scott has a personal blog.


So after four months of solid tweeting, what do I think? I don’t think you can argue that Twitter doesn’t have its place in news media, but what that place is, is easily debated. I think twitter is great for forging friendships, connections and networking, but I am still to be convinced that it’s here to stay for the long term.

For breaking stories, like Osama bin Laden’s death, it’s perfect- but for deeper analysis and expert opinion I still turn to traditional media. It’s great for linking to those stories, and providing humorous and witty banter, but I can’t say it’s certainly had a deeper impact on my knowledge of the ‘bigger’ issues society faces by itself.

It’s good for sourcing opinions, but even those are skewed to people who use twitter regularly and therefore limited to a sub-section of the population as a whole.

People who interact with twitter and don’t just use it as a newsfeed, tend to have strong opinions on pretty much everything, and can agenda set and push their issues and views on subjects, without putting forward a balancing view. I am also guilty of this.

I think including personal tweets can come across as self-indulgent on the one hand, but also adds a personal touch and ‘humanizes’ you on the other. I get the highest interaction from my followers who I haven’t personally met when I tweet about what I’m doing, or my thoughts on something, instead of just straight facts.

I guess the main question is ‘will I keep tweeting, now that I don’t have to?’ At this stage, I think that answer is yes, but probably not so often or so self-indulgently.

Shield laws reflect the changing media scene.

29 Mar

Most of the things I listen to Pollies speak about everyday don’t directly apply to me, but in the Press Gallery last week there were excited whispers about a bill being passed. This is unusual because usually we just write a story or talk about it on air and that’s it. Signed, sealed, delivered. Unless it’s a huge piece of legislation with broad affect (NBN, Carbon Price) the conversation doesn’t extend to our lunchtime/pre-presser banter.

Then came Andrew Wilkie’s Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Bill 2010 had us talking for a number of reasons.

  • It was the first Private Member’s Bill to be passed by the current Parliament, and the 18th since Federation.
  • It gives Journos rights to not reveal their sources in Court Hearings, like Doctors and Lawyers. Our sources now become part of a legislated confidentiality agreement.
  • It also gives bloggers, citizen journalists and tweeters the same rights.

Image by Patrick Finney via DanLawton.com

This is a huge reform that finally gives recognition to journalists that they should protect their sources if they have given them their word that they will. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the court room.

For more detail, The Australian has an article that is a good start.

Waltzing (New) Matilda

15 Mar

So Jason says I have to blog about an online news source that I consume regularly, and compare it to an offline source. This is a little difficult for me as when it comes to my news diet I am more of a nomadic grazer than someone that eats (reads) the same low fat/low calorie/bland/wheatgerm-enriched content every day.

I unashamedly hop, skip and jump around the internet, some would call me a news hussy- I hold no loyalty to one website. Depending on what is happening in the world, what people are recommending on twitter and my general mood of the day ends up dictating where I go.

Browsing through my computer’s history for some sort of inspiration for this blog post, I asked myself if I had to go on an atkins-esque diet, and could only read one site a day, which would it be? My checklist included: local and international content, analysis and commentary on the ‘big’ issues, pictures and intelligent banter. It came down to Crikey and New Matilda, and as we’ve discussed Crikey to death in class, I’ll go with N.M.

Putting aside their funding problems and weird business model, N.M has a lot to offer a young journalist. According to their website they:

publish breaking news and stories which provide background and context to current affairs. We don’t reproduce material that is available in other outlets or that has already appeared on New Matilda. We do publish commentary pieces but in an online environment which already offers Australian readers plenty of opinion-driven writing, we are keen to focus on journalism. Stories which feature original research, fresh thinking, new ideas and sharp arguments are most likely to catch our attention and that of our readers.”

I think it’s priceless to have a ‘hub’ that provides background information and commentary on issues that I am simply too young to know about, remember, or have enough historical context to analyse current issues correctly. The benefit of having a forum where people with qualifications discuss issues as well as journalists is that you get accurate, in-depth information. In a society where we have mountains of basic information, but not a whole lot of detailed analysis you often get media stories that scare the living daylights out of people un-necessarily.

Comparing it to an ‘off-line’ source is actually really difficult. All traditional ‘off-line’ content producers now have a strong on-line presence. Not having a website to go with your newspaper/magazine/radio show/television programme is pretty much unheard of these days. It seems you can have a website with no ‘off-line’ presence, but you’d be crazy to have an ‘off-line’ presence without an ‘online’ counterpart.