Content Warning: This article mentions racial discrimination against First Nations peoples.
ABC recently apologized to employees for racism and cultural insensitivity in its newsroom. It came after Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse ABC employees told an internal group that they felt unwanted in their workplace, their views were not being heard and that they had received online abuse from the public.
Unfortunately these issues are not unique to ABC and exist in other media outlets and newsrooms.
We also know that media organizations may produce material that is racist or hostile towards First Nations people. Decades of research shows, with few exceptions, that many mainstream Australian media organizations have incorrectly reported on First Nations Peoples over the years, and continue to do so.
The reporting featured racist cartoons, prejudiced stereotypes, questions of cultural identity and First Nations peoples as either violent or victimized.
Racist and inappropriate depictions of First Nations people can make newsrooms and other media outlets unsafe places for Indigenous journalists to work, as well as affect how First Nations issues are covered and its is thought about.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Australians working in the media can improve their cultural competency during their university education. That way, they can enter and contribute to workplaces prepared to interact ethically and respectfully and report on stories from outside their own cultures.
However, our new study shows that many Australian universities with journalism programs have significant work to do in incorporating cultural protection into their curricula.
Read more: Media inclusion of indigenous peoples is growing but there is still room for improvement
Australia needs cultural security in its newsrooms
Journalists can help shape the national conversation and influence audience perspectives on how they choose to report. It is therefore important for these journalists to be culturally secure in how they communicate about communities and individuals outside their culture.
Cultural Security aims to create a space where the identity and experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is “no attack, challenge or denial”.
It is designed by listening deeply to First Nations perspectives through non-Indigenous peoples. It means sharing of power and resources in a way that supports indigenous self-determination and empowerment. It also requires addressing the unconscious biases, racism and discrimination of non-Indigenous people inside and outside the workplace.
First Nations groups and high-level institutions have been demanding more expertise and training in this area for decades.
The 1991 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report called for consideration of journalism education
Creation and reporting of specific units of study devoted to tribal affairs, in consultation with the media industry and media unions.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples noted that Australian news outlets often “spread myths and misinformation or false stereotypes about the First Peoples of Australia, which in turn influence public opinion in adverse ways.”
it breeds racism
A debilitating personal impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, a devaluation of their cultural pride and identity, and an adverse effect on their physical and mental health.
In 2009 the National Indigenous Higher Education Network recommended universities to “systematically embed Indigenous perspectives in curricula”.
In 2011, Universities Australia issued an expectation that “all graduates of Australian universities will have the necessary knowledge and skills to interact in a culturally competent manner with Indigenous communities”.
Read more: First Nation children make up about 20% of missing children, but receive a fraction of media coverage
In our study, we reviewed over 100 media/journalism assessments from a sample of over 10% of Australian universities with journalism programs in 2021. We found that only one had a clear focus on the indigenous subject. Our interviews with 17 journalism students revealed how absent or minimal their education on Indigenous affairs has been.
In the words of a second year university student:
There is of course much more to be done because stories and issues related to indigenous peoples, as such, are such a vast subject. And it will be very helpful for people who become journalists to understand their role in communication and storytelling, and the impact their words have on public perception of indigenous peoples.
The students we interviewed expressed a desire for more training on Indigenous affairs in Australia. He said this would help him gain confidence in reporting on First Nations people in respectful and culturally safe ways.
Students also thought their universities could integrate indigenous content and perspectives in a more sustained and focused way. According to a third-year university student, “It may not be that one week we talk about racism.” First Nations students will also benefit from more education on Indigenous affairs. An Indigenous participant in our study said:
Even if a few more Indigenous journalists come by, you can talk to them, find out what it’s really like to be a black sheep to, essentially, a very white-dominated one. from the industry. I think there is a need to be able to have more perspective and indigenous knowledge in the field of education.
Read more: For an Indigenous perspective on ‘Australia Day’, here’s a quick guide to First Nations media platforms
There is a need to include cultural security in journalism training
One possible solution could be to increase the number of First Nation journalists in Australian newsrooms. However, the burn rate for these journalists is high due to toxic workplace conditions. This contributes to the low proportion of Indigenous journalists in Australia.
Universities need to provide their staff and students with the time and resources to consider thoughtfully how to work with and report to First Nations peoples. This would allow for a more culturally safe way of working. It can also provide a safe haven for Indigenous peoples seeking a role in journalism. Hopefully this can allay the irritation of these journalists when they join the media workforce.
The integrity of our media system and the way our country engages with indigenous affairs depends on it.