Young People, Identity and Media conference
On 19 August 2011 the Young People, Identity and Media Forum was held at the Northcote Town Hall.
The forum was organised by the Multicultural Multifaith Youth Network (MMYN) (new window) and the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre's Ethnic Youth Council (new window). The forum was well attended by many young people and other interested people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.
The forum discussed the following:
- Refugees, migration and the settlement experience
- How people of refugee status and multicultural youths are negatively portrayed in mainstream media
- How to get involved and empower people from CALD backgrounds to counter stereotypes
Young People, Identity and the Settlement Experience
The morning began with an opening performance by Future of the Rap and was followed by a panel discussion by four young people:
- Aisha Ali from the Oromo community, a woman of Muslim faith and a radio presenter from Melbourne's ethnic community radio station 3ZZZ (new window)
- Grace McQuilton, founder of Social Studio (new window), a studio for fashion design by young refugee communities
- Ali Majokah, Director of the Moving Media Project (new window) and a member of the InterAction Multifaith Youth Network (new window) and the MMYN
- Peter Ajak, project officer at Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre (new window)
The first discussion was about identity and the settlement experience. The panelists talked about how refugees are framed in a negative way in mainstream media. This creates misunderstanding from local audiences.
Identity was also discussed. Sometimes migrants struggle with their identity because when they settle in a new country, they need to restart their lives and find where they fit in. Aisha said that identity is determined by your own choice and not by others. We have a choice of who we want to be.
"Refugee" isn't an identity
Peter said that we need to be clear about who and what refugees are. He said being a refugee isn't an identity, because "no one is born a refugee". Being a refugee is a status and we need to understand that.
The four panellists said that some mainstream media negatively portray young migrants, with a current focus in on the Sudanese community. News reports have often associated the Sudanese community with violence. Negative portrayals reinforce stereotyping and this can have profound effects on how we think about certain communities.
Australia's society is made up of people from a great variety of backgrounds. According to the Census figures, around one quarter of Australians are born overseas, but some experience discrimination and prejudice. Sometimes being different and having different views, culture, ideologies and religion can make you a target. Aisha pointed out that she's sometimes referred to as an outsider by local Australians because of her dress and appearance.
During the discussions, there were many references to ways that multicultural communities can counteract negative stereotypes. One of the proposed solutions was to get involved in community radio. One member of the audience strongly emphasised the need for more positive stories about people from migrant backgrounds in the media.
Grace McQuilton believes there are other ways to empower marginalised communities. When I spoke to Grace she said that the Social Studio gives migrants opportunities to develop an interest and career pathway in fashion design. Grace believes that art and design is a healthy way for people to express their ideas. She also believes that art doesn't discriminate. She said it was "important to learn from each other in the community", and that we should respect each other because she "doesn't want Australia to be a polarised country."
While discrimination exists and there are some migrants that experience difficulties in settlement, Peter Ajak remains optimistic. His words of inspiration were highly praised by the audience.
Peter said that once you're in Australia, "you are free, but you are on your own." A person's wellbeing, happiness and the outcome of their lives are determined by the individual's choice to make it happen. If you're not treated fairly, it's your responsibility to stand up and make yourself be heard because "no one will care if you don't stand up."
I also spoke to Aisha Ali, who is absolutely enthusiastic about getting multicultural young people involved in ethnic community broadcasting. Community media gives them a voice, but Aisha believes that community media needs to further expand its scope and audience so that it's "in everyone's living room". She also mentioned that community media shouldn't need to be on the same platform as mainstream media so alternative voices can be heard more.
Media and the Image of a Refugee
After a break, there was another panel discussing Media and the Image of a Refugee. This panel featured:
- Michael Gawenda, former editor of The Age and Director of The Centre for Advanced Journalism (new window) at Melbourne University
- Dr Nasya Bahfren, lecturer in Journalism at RMIT and reporter for the ABC
- Mohammed El-Lessy, youth worker and former contestant in the Amazing Race
- Denise Cauchi, Director of the Humanitarian Crisis Hub (new window)
As Director of The Centre for Advanced Journalism, Michael Gawenda has been training people from CALD backgrounds to gain media skills. He said it's important to give multicultural communities a voice in the media and it's important to educate journalists about reporting on different communities.
The reasons for misrepresentation
I spoke to Dr Nasya Bahfren, who pointed out some reasons why multicultural communities get misrepresented in the news. She said reporters "don't have a lot of time to think of a lot of aspects" because of their extremely tight deadlines.
With regard to racism and prejudice, Dr Bahfren believes that Australia has a strong history of racism. Racism happens because of the fear of difference and ignorance about different cultures and beliefs. Furthermore, "stereotypes distil things to the most basic form", giving rise to misconceptions.
When I asked why she thought mainstream media associates Sudanese communities with violence, Dr Bahfren believes that it "sells well" and sometimes it's hard to sell positive news to an audience.
Dr Bahfren suggested that there aren't many people from CALD backgrounds in the mainstream media industry because, as a career path, it's "not lucrative in their community" and sometimes there's family pressure to seek another career path.
Get into media and make noise
Mohammed El-Leissy spoke about how people from multicultural communities can get into mainstream media. He said multicultural communities need to approach and engage with conservative media and make changes from there. One needs to be flexible and know how to attract attention and make a strong impression in peoples' minds.
Denise Cauchi gave alternative suggestions on how multicultural communities can gain a voice in society. She believes that mainstream media isn't the only way. She suggests that people can utilise other types of media tools. This could include using YouTube and blogging as ways to promote your ideas.
Denise also stressed that it's important to know who you want to influence.
Enthusiasm and passion for change
Overall, the forum was a fantastic experience. It was great to see so many enthusiastic young people and others wanting to make positive changes in our society and for our multicultural communities. People from CALD backgrounds have long been making significant contributions to Australia - it's they who have made Australia's society so colourful and vibrant.
As we all come from different backgrounds, it's important we learn to respect and understand each other to achieve our goals in social cohesion. After attending the forum, I feel that we can achieve our goals very soon because there are so many passionate young people keen to work towards social acceptance for all.
To learn more about the Young People, Identity and Media Forum, you can read the full report about the forum, which is now available for download.
For more articles about faith and culture, check out our Articles archive.
Articles Written by Hsin-Yi
Reviews written by Hsin-Yi
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