I remember grocery day distinctly. Mum would arrive home with bags of food and a weekly edition of The Sydney Korean Herald, a Korean-Australian newspaper, bundled among the tofu, miso paste and cabbage. I’d often catch her circling an advertisement for a local mover or peering over an article about the real estate industry in Australia. For mum, and many others like her, the pages of a newspaper that printed local news in her mother tongue, was a window into the white Australia around her.
My mum is a first-generation immigrant to Australia– the first of her family to relocate and become a citizen in a new country– and she’s lived on these shores for over two and a half decades. She’s not a blonde-haired and blue-eyed Australian, as popularised by the media, but she is still Australian. Arriving in Australia at a time when people would ask whether our family is from the north or south of Korea, community newspapers have been integral to my parents’ transition. But for a rising number of second-generation Asian-Australians, a new solution for media diversity and inclusion needs to be on the mainstream agenda again.
According to the 2016 national census in Australia, nearly half the country’s population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born outside the country. There are more than 300 languages represented in Australia, and one-fifth of the nation speaks a language other than English at home. Yet, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), one of the two government-funded stations, is the only network mandated to consistently offer multilingual content for a non-English speaking audience.
In a country as diverse as Australia, national broadcasters and newspapers have the mammoth task of ensuring people from a collection of cultures can feel included and represented. There’s both a cultural and a democratic need for this, to ensure that the vast number of Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds can actively participate in national debates and make informed decisions about issues that impact Australian lives, including theirs.
At an early stage in the history of Korean immigration to Australia, community newspapers were invaluable in bridging the gap between white and non-white media. In doing so, outlets like The Sydney Korean Herald dismantled some of the language barriers that many first-generation immigrants faced in accessing news in Australia. Weekly papers featuring articles about local state elections, national politics and cultural topics such as “Great Australian road trips to take in 2019,” have been crucial in nation-building for first-generation immigrants. But a new solution is needed for second- and third-generation Asian-Australians.
The gap that community newspapers filled for my parent’s generation has failed to incentivise mainstream outlets to diversify their content and reach. In an era when the print industry at large is in decline, many young Asian-Australians are looking to online sites and social media platforms as an alternative to traditional media that is still ill-equipped to represent our stories. For a digitally literate and mobile-first generation, there’s a growing dissatisfaction with the lack of diversity in the Australian digital media, and unsurprisingly, research shows that a meaningful representation of ethnic minorities in Australia’s news media is still a long way off.
Young Asian-Australians Rely on Non-Traditional News
Research from Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, on cultural diversity in mainstream media found that Australians born overseas relied less on traditional media as their main source of news and visited an online news site more often than those born in the country (65% versus 48%). Study respondents demonstrated a keen interest in Australia’s local and national news agenda; however, they disassociated themselves from traditional news sources due to the skewed coverage of transnational events. Unbalanced portrayals of minority groups created negative sentiments towards minority groups and caused anxiety within communities of colour.
After analysing mainstream media coverage of minority issues, the study also found that more than a third of stories reflected a negative view of minority communities. Articles in mainstream media lacked a balance of diverse perspectives and favoured sources that amplified a negative sentiment toward minority communities. It’s a perpetual crisis that’s shifted from print to online, whereby stereotypes are reinforced and communities are continuously fragmented into race-based silos.
These findings have significant implications for traditional news media in Australia. Given the diverse makeup of the population, mainstream news outlets must work harder in a digital age to gain back the interest of younger non-white Australians in order to foster a sense of unity, reflect the country’s diverse perspectives and create a shared understanding and identity. After all, these are key principles that underlie the role journalism is supposed to play in society.
Born to immigrant parents but raised in Australia, I can relate to the sense of isolation and alienation, reinforced by a lack of familiar faces and voices. At university, I studied Media and Communications, but I was one of few Women of Colour in a predominantly white cohort. Outside the classroom, the only representations I came across featured young Asians with impressive exam grades or affluent overseas students. Everyday People of Colour were rarely seen or heard in relatable ways in the Australian media.
I’m part of a distinct generation of Asian-Australians–we uphold our cultural heritage but also have inherent pride in our Australian identity. We’re educated, English-speaking and willing to engage in public debate, but the doors of inclusion have not yet been opened to us. Without a variety of voices like ours on a national stage, it feels as though the invitation to participate in national dialogue has not been extended to people like us.
There is plenty of room for meaningful diversity on Australian screens and newspapers beyond a tokenistic representation of the Asian-Australian identity. Screen Australia reported in 2016 that only 32% of main characters on Australian TV within the last five years have a first- or second-generation background other than Anglo-Celtic. At the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), a national broadcast station, only 8.3% of its content makers were from a non-English speaking background in 2017-18, a meagre increase from 7.8% the year before, as revealed in its 2017-18 Equity and Diversity Report.
In its 15th annual Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook,7 PricewaterhouseCoopers mapped the stark contrast between a diverse population and a monolingual media industry. It reported that approximately 83% of the nation’s media and entertainment workforce only spoke English at home. The report concluded, “the lack of diversity in Australia's media and entertainment workforce in terms of ethnicity, gender, age and thinking is dragging on the industry's growth.”
As young Australians of colour are more likely to rely on social media and online sources for news content, it’s no surprise that micro-communities and forums such as ”Subtle Asian Traits,” a Facebook group featuring memes and discussions about the Asian immigrant experience, are increasing in popularity. Until the Australian media can integrate a greater diversity of voices – both through its workforce and in the stories it tells – the online community is where many Asian-Australians are turning for a sense of inclusion, to grapple with our dual identity and debate issues that matter to us.
Ethnically diverse communities will always require specialised information and knowledge to participate in a country’s democratic processes. But simply translating content into another language is not diversity. We need an array of stories that we can relate to – stories that provide in-depth coverage of events and issues that affect a multicultural audience and content that inspires a generation of Asian-Australians to dream of becoming a member of parliament, a school principal or a television reporter.
About the author: Shona Yang is a freelance writer and blogger based in Sydney. She is an Asian-Australian passionate about sharing stories relating to the minority experience and human rights around the world.
This is an excerpt from an upcoming book, Unbias the News.