New News 2015 | From The Ground Up: New Media and Indigenous Reporting

by STEPHANIE MCLEAN | @eppielog

This year, an AFL crowd’s booing of Adam Goodes’ goal celebration war dance caused a flurry of heated discussion in the Australian media.

While many jumped to Goodes’ defence saying the incident was racist, an overwhelming portion of media coverage described the situation as hyperbole.

But who gets to decide what is racial vilification and what is not, in Australia?

And despite prolific new media technologies, are Indigenous voices being heard in the noisy schoolyard that is the Australian media environment?

Last Saturday, as part of The Wheeler Centre’s New News event – a three-day series looking at the present and future of Australian journalism – the From the Ground Up panel delved into the prevalence of exactly that.

Panellists, Amy McQuire, Allan Clarke, Steve Gumerungi Hodder Watt and Paul Daley, hosted by Jack Latimore brought personal experience and expertise to the table.

McQuire, a Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman from Rockhampton in central Queensland and Journalist from 89.9FM in Brisbane says Australian mainstream media often describes Indigenous issues in a negative light, reinforcing a misguided stereotype.

She highlights, during the 2004 Palm Island uprising the incident was commonly described as a ‘riot’ in the media, transmitting negative reasoning to the Australian public and disempowering the true message of Indigenous Australians.

“[Language] is not semantics, it’s important because for so long that control has been taken out of our hands,” says McQuire.

According to McQuire, funding for long-form Aboriginal journalism and accessible platforms such as radio is a must if Indigenous voices are to be heard.

She says, while new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are useful, radio is a model of self-determination because it allows people to say what they want, in the way they want to say it.

Clarke, a Muruwuri man from Bourke in western NSW and Buzzfeed Australia’s national Indigenous affairs reporter says the abundance of new media platforms gives Indigenous Australians greater opportunity to be heard.

He says, groups such as SOS Blak Australia have engaged a phenomenal following through social media, a positive step forward for Indigenous communities.

Clarke seems to have faith in new media and says contemporary publications like Buzzfeed offer journalists better freedom when reporting on Indigenous issues compared to more traditional media outlets: “It’s refreshing because there are no pre-meditated ideas about how Aboriginal affairs should be reported.”

Hodder Watt, a Lardil man from Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, north-west Queensland has worked in Indigenous media and publishing in Central Australia for over 20 years.

He believes mainstream media are never going to change non-Indigenous attitudes towards Indigenous Australians.

His suggestion implies the change needs to come from the people, and new media platforms are a means by which Indigenous Australians can initiate this.

But for Daley, a pervasive lack of knowledge and understanding of Indigenous history is at the crux of Aboriginal issues in Australia.

Daley, who writes about Australian history, Indigenous issues and national identity for the Guardian Australia says prevailing ideas of colonisation in Australia are of benign settlement.

He says, storytelling is a fundamental part of Aboriginal culture and there are stories from the past that are yet to be heard: “They [Aboriginal people] wrote a lot about [white settlement] and it’s there in their own voices”

According to Daley, the Indigenous story is confronting for non-Indigenous Australians because we don’t want to accept the nature of our history: “We’re talking about war, we’re talking about terrorism, and we need to give that language back.”

While opportunities to hear Indigenous Australians talk openly and uninterrupted seem rare, From the Ground Up provided invaluable insight into some of the systemic problems surrounding the potential for Indigenous voices to be heard in the Australian contemporary media landscape.

Latimore, a researcher with the Centre of Advancing Journalism and a subeditor with the Guardian Australia is passionate about Aboriginal affairs and values the importance of open speech: “It’s not often that the issue gets to have a good thrash about, and that’s why I’m really behind events like this”.


Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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