Telling Both Stories: Indigenous Australia and the Media


Media Forum Report 1994

Centre for Research in Culture and Communication
Murdoch University, Western Australia 6150
All rights reserved


Introduction

The 1994 Media Forum "Telling Both Stories" was held on Saturday 26 Februrary at the Murdoch University Social Club and hosted by the Centre for Research into Culture and Communication. It was attended by over 120 people from an impressive range of Aboriginal and media organisations. Key speakers included Editor of The West Australian Paul Murray, Channel Seven's Director of News John Rudd, Dot West from Radio Goolari, Colleen Hayward from the Trades and Labour Council and Helen Lawrence from . An afternoon workshop was chaired by Frank Brennan and the workshop sessions included representatives from the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, the Press Council, the Kimberley Land Council, the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance, journalism educators and Aboriginal media organisations.

The morning session of the media forum was essentially concerned with perspectives from both Aboriginal people and media organisations on the past year's media reporting.

The afternoon sessions included participant workshops on Disputes and Procedures: a workshop for Aboriginal organisations and media management; Coverage and Contacts: a training workshop for journalists; Remote Reporting: a workshop for non-metropolitan media organisations and a networking session, allowing those not involved in other workshops to discuss relevant issues.

The afternoon also included the presentation of the inaugural Louis Johnson Media Awards; a direct response to one of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody's recommendations relating to the media. Announced in the 1992 Telling Both Stories, the awards aim to encourage excellence in the reporting of Aboriginal affairs in Western Australia and include categories for the print media, electronic media, features and entries from Aboriginal people and organisations.

Since the first Telling Both Stories' Media Forum was held in 1992 to implement the media recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody we have witnessed a significant shift in Aboriginal affairs reporting. The focus of the 1992 forum was the negative portrayal of Aboriginal people in West Australian media; primarily in crime, sacred sites and welfare news reporting. However in 1993 an important new issue emerged in the media.

To say that the 1992 High Court decision on Native Title has had an irrevocable effect on Aboriginal affairs portrayal in the media is to recognise the massive historical implications of that decision and its rejection of terra nullius. It is hardly surprising that it propelled Aboriginal affairs reporting into an era where there were more stories on Aboriginal issues than ever and, in particular, land rights Most importantly, the effect of the Native Title debate was to focus media reporting on Aboriginal affairs as political news stories. By reporting on Aboriginal people as a community with political rights and views to articulate, this shift in treatment made at least one important departure from the crime and welfare focus of the past. The land rights news stories did, overall, situate Aboriginal people as an important and powerful voice in the community, a voice that had a right to be heard and respected. This treatment also allowed the emergence of opinion leaders in the community with diverse and often challenging views.

While the overall effect of this change of issues and style of news coverage was potentially positive for Aboriginal people, the actual standard of reporting itself from the West Australian media was mixed. In a time when there was more need than ever for balanced and accurate reporting, there were misconceptions, alarms and more confusion about the effect of the Native Title decisions than clarification. At the time of the 1994 Media Forum, the community remained largely ignorant of the complexities and issues that surrounded the debate. Sections of the media undoubtedly played an important role in creating and failing to dispel public confusion and misconceptions.

We saw some excellent Aboriginal affairs reporting as evidenced by the Louis Johnson Media Awards and some commendable and bold editorial policies which challenged and kept in balance alarmist fears generated by the Western Australian State government and the mining industry. Native Title reporting overall, however, pointed to a disturbing lack of understanding in the media and wider community of the Aboriginal viewpoint. It highlighted, once again, the original media recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the need for some of those specific tasks to be taken on board.

The 1992 Media Forum was organised with the intention of implementing these recommendations; important progress was made at that Forum, particularly in the areas of creating a national prize for excellent Aboriginal Affairs reporting and initiating dialogues between the Aboriginal community and media organisations.

The 1994 Media Forum established the need for the recommendations to be developed and their importance recognised by all the media. The task of creating a better understanding between journalists and Aboriginal people, and consequently better coverage of Aboriginal affairs, requires a platform where both media representatives and Aboriginal people can articulate their own requirements and expectations. For this purpose, a National Media Forum is needed; one which takes account of the wide range of Aboriginal voices across Australia.

The Media in 1993

As part of preparing research for the 1994 Media Forum a report, written by Dr John Richardson, was commissioned by the Murdoch University Centre for Research in Culture and Communication. A summary of this report was presented to the 1994 Media Forum by CRCC Director Associate Professor John Hartley. This report surveyed and analysed the major trends and examples of Aboriginal affairs reporting in 1993, sampling over 1000 news items relating to Aboriginal issues in the West Australian and Australian media. What follows is a brief summary of the major findings of this report.

Print Media

The major Aboriginal issues covered by the WA press in 1993 were:

Land rights 70 %

Aboriginal funding 6.4%

Sacred sites 4%

Crime 3.9%

Health 3.4%

'Phantom Camps' 3.1%

Poverty 2.3%

Alcohol and Drug Abuse 1.9%

Racism in Sport 1%

The Sunday Times

During 1993 the Sunday Times chose to focus on the so-called'phantom camps' it claimed to have discovered in the remote north of the State. The most significant feature of this reporting was its failure to solicit and publish an adequate Aboriginal viewpoint, notably that of the outstation members. The gist of the Sunday Times claims was that considerable public funds were being wasted on the development of small 'outstation' settlements, that these were often left half-completed, derelict and abandoned. Its provocative headlines during August such as 'Phantom Campus cost Millions' substantially ignored Aboriginal perspectives on the camps, positioning them as overfunded with their inhabitants lazy and exploitative. Descriptions of campers 'relaxing in the mid-morning sun' and annoyed that the diesel generator had broken down because they 'wanted to watch videos and their new TV set' were calculated to create an impression of indolence and waste. The reporting compared the campers with 'working Aborigines' who were 'angry at the waste', setting the people of Prap Prap apart from the community through their absence of a work ethic. Significantly, the Sunday Times' reporting relied upon stereotypes, one-sided views and predjudicial assumptions to support its claims rather than giving its accused equal space to speak.

These articles were accompanied by specific attacks on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and Aboriginal funding through news items and Sunday Times editorials. Again, its articles failed to give significant exposure to ATSIC views, invoking the agency of 'the taxpayers' to 'question' the appropriation of funds.

The Sunday Times returned its attention to the outback stations in November with its 'Oases of waste' feature article which once again focussed on the camps as objects of Aboriginal misuse and neglect. Again, this theme was given little challenge by Aboriginal spokespeople whose views were included as additional rather than integral to the stories.

Not only did the articles neglect to represent an appropriate Aboriginal viewpoint but their orientation and sensational headlines made claims of wastage and exploitation which were simply not backed up the actual evidence in the articles. Accompanying photographs did not reinforce the view that the camps are abandoned; characters appear in both the pictures and the news reports. None of the 'massive wastage' mentioned in the articles such as 'Tonnes of uncovered cement bags had gone hard' and 'a giant freezer unit stands outside waiting for a power source' was in evidence in the actual photographs.

Essentially, examples were proffered in a way that belied the predjudicial assumptions the reporters were making. The reporter chose to present the truck with a faulty clutch and cement mixer with the wheel missing as products of Aboriginal misuse or neglect rather than as illustrations of fairly typical occurences in conditions where lines of supply are difficult to maintain and delays are not so much the exception, but the rule.

The link of funding and 'phantom rip-offs' was an important element in the background to the Sunday Times' coverage of the Mabo debate in which it came clearly out in favour of the pro-State, anti-Mabo opinion. Importantly, in bringing its readers into the debate through the 'back door' of the 'phantom camps' scenario the Sunday Times effectively posited its own picture of waste and indolence as a future portrait of Aboriginal land aspirations.

The investigative style of the articles was in fact limited to finding out exactly what the Sunday Times teams intended to report. The journalists went looking for wastage and translated what they saw into this theme. There is no investigation of aspects such as an alternative Aboriginal perspective, the actual circumstances of station life (especially during the wet) or, most importantly, the consequences of the potential success of the ATSIC projects.

One of the most disturbing aspects about the Sunday Times coverage, however, was its presentation of a nation in which 'taxpayers' and Aboriginal people were painted as opposing forces.

In other examples of reporting the Sunday Times' attitude is reminiscent of assimilation-style policies where Aborigines with a white work-ethic(e.g. 'Outstation life offers a new start', November) are placed as morally superior to the apparently lazy and wasteful Aboriginal outstation communities. Its interpretation of any scene in which Aboriginal people were not conforming to its definition of 'work' were comparable to going into the city on Sunday to report that 'there were few signs of people working.' It begs the question •how would the Sunday Times have reported scenes of white people relaxing in the Kimberley's fishing and camping spots?

There were isolated instances of reporting that did look deeper at the social and cultural roots of Aboriginal people, especially in feature articles such as Neville Green's 'More a massacre than a battle' which looked at the Pinjarra massacre from an Aboriginal perspective. However, only 27.3% of the coverage treated Aboriginal and Islander issues in a way which effectively challenged existing prejudices. For the Sunday Times, 1993 eventually came to revolve around the funding issue and its alleged burden upon the 'tax payer'.

The West Australian

The most notable feature of The West Australian's substantial coverage of Aboriginal affairs, and in particular the Mabo debate, was an ambivalence between its editorial policies and many of its news items. From the beginning of 1993 the West took a pro-land rights, pro-reconciliation stance which was particularly severe of the State government's go-it-alone policy and which criticised scare-mongering predictions of land claims on suburban homes. Its editorials throughout 1993 stressed the importance of traditional land to Aboriginal culture and associated its recovery with the alleviation of health and alcohol problems.

This stance, however, was not always reflected by the West's news reporting which, while censuring Mabo scare-tactics, occasionally reinforced community prejudices through alarmist headlines of its own. The tendency to stereotype Aboriginal individuals through stories such as 'Secrets revealed in battle with miner' included in the West's coverage of the Dominion mining dispute. An interview with Dinny Smith, an elder of the Wiltjinit people, portrays the elder in an inappropriate, 'child-like' way with his speech recorded in nursery book syntax and grammar.

Other examples where the West showed a marked lack of sensitivity include the coverage of a funeral of a woman of the Derby Aboriginal community. In Liz Tickner's article 'To Daisy's people, land's a life and death struggle' the West found it necessary to report that a stray dog urinated on the hearse and that the burial party 'forgot' to bring the shovels.

Similarly in an articles by the same reporter on the Mabo rally entitled 'Music, chants mark Mabo march' focused attention on the trivial aspects of the marchers to the detriment of the march's political significance as an event which, reportedly, attracted some 5,000 people. Again it chose to link the theme of urination a report of a small child urinating during Sir Ronald Wilson's address with the serious nature of the event.

In its crime reporting during 1993 The West Australian failed to provide a meaningful context in articles such as 'Fear of Crime' (July); a presentation of statistics which singled out a high Aboriginal participation rate in crime without any analysis of the reasons for this. This reporting was included despite more thoughtful feature articles that appeared earlier in the year ('Lawyer fights racial bias to juvenile justice reform' and 'Aborigines trapped in white society'.

The West's coverage of racism in sport, prompted by Collingwood football team coach Allan McAlister's comments that Aboriginal people would be respected and admired 'as long as they conducted themselves like white people' included 'Ugly history of racism in sport' an impressive round-up of the contribution Aboriginal people have made to Australia's sporting history.

In its stories about the Aboriginal graves found on Rottnest Island The West Australian adopted a positive stance, demanding that Rottnest Tentland should be respected as a burial ground. its front page leader 'Island shock: 2000 buried'' was contextualised by intelligent editorial comment and a strong feature article on the same issue.

In covering the appalling death rates and living conditions of the Kalgoorlie 'fringe-dwellers', an appropriate editorial once again accompanied the articles ('Black deaths shame us all'). The articles' sensitive portrayal of people's ill health in Kalgoorlie took time to consult a range of Aboriginal perspectives and is a good example of significant improvement in Aboriginal affairs coverage. In 'Black death shame us all', like in many other of its editorials, the West links the land rights issues to reconciliation and provides intelligent interpretations of these as the basis for citizenship rights of Aboriginal people.

Overall, however, The West Australian relies too heavily on its editorial policy as a counterweight to the effects of some of its hard news items. Editorials and comments appear in a different section of the paper and there is no guarantee that they will be read or that they will be interpreted as anything other than opinion. Importantly, the West failed to treat the major Aboriginal-organised event of the year the abovementioned Mabo rally with the attention and serious consideration it deserved. It missed this opportunity to present Aboriginal perspectives and non-Aboriginal agreement with those views.

The failure to properly contextualise Aboriginal problems and issues in their social and cultural background is effectively to leave readers in ignorance and, often, to reinforce existing prejudices.

The Community newspapers

Coverage of Aboriginal affairs by most Community newspaper outlets was sparse with the notable exceptions of the Fremantle Herald and the Canning-Melville Times.

The Canning-Melville Times' series of features under the heading 'The Telling of it' concerned itself with examples of reconciliation in action and was structured around a series of interviews with Aboriginal people.

The Fremantle Herald ran several letters and reports around issues such as the brewery, Aboriginal grave sites at Rottnest Island and in June, forcefully joined the land rights debate with an interview with Richard Bartlett headlined 'Critics of Mabo are wrong.' In general the Herald's stance was a positive interpretation of events in the Mabo land rights case and its publication of letters and articles provided important debate of Aboriginal land issues. Unlike its rival local newspaper, The Fremantle Gazette, the Herald strove to rebut prejudices created by the 'backyard-under-threat' alarms raised by members of the State government. In contrast, the Gazette's Billy Cokebottle advertisement was by any standards, racist and offensive and indicated the effort yet to be made by some media to understand the derogatory nature of such material.

Electronic media

Press articles are inherently easier to monitor than radio and television and for funding reasons the focus of the research report was largely upon the print media. The 1994 Media Forum did, however, present an excerpt from Howard Sattler's programme on 6PR which was recorded in 1993:

I've seen the Waugle I have seen the Waugle. I must have seen the Waugle because an anthropologist who is giving evidence yesterday to oppose the redeveloopment of the old Swan Brewery site I don't known when they're going to give up this mob, but she said the Waugle can reveal itself as a rainbow or a willi-willi. Now I was up i Denham as you know a couple of weeks ago and I saw a willi-willi so this is probably the Waugle.

Yes this is very profound...

And I've seen a number of rainbows. What do you reckon?

Well you've probably seen Waugles. They're really Waugles and I might comment on that later. I have never heard that school of garbage.,,

...what about Mabo? Now the State Goernment's going to take on the Federal Government I think they should have waited a bit but there you go Richard Court's going to go in and challenge the Federal Government and that will cost us millions...so what's the good of it and these people, you said, they don't say this is wrong and that sort of thing, or is this right, ut what they're doing to using taxpayers' money they dont give a 'you know what' about us.

Like the Sunday Times, 6PR's definition of 'taxpayers money' effectively excludes Aboriginal people from the general community by refusing them to recognise them as taxpayers themselves. This portrayal automatically posits Aboriginal people as a drain on taxfunds and not deserving of them. It is a theme to which the 1994 Forum returned and discussed in some depth.

Although a thorough survey of the electronic media was not possible at the 1994 Forum, a systematic and thorough examination of the radio and television reporting will be an important focus for future media forums.

Media Forum 1994

Some issues and perspectives

Many of the themes explored in John Richardson's report came under consideration at the 1994 Media Forum which, like the 1992 Forum, provided a basis for much discussion between Aboriginal groups and media representatives. Some of the major perspectives and concerns to emerge from the key speakers and participant are described below. Overall they echoed and reinforced the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody's recommendations relating to the media and pointed to the urgent need for some of these recommendations to be given greater emphasis across all levels of the media.

'Journalists have not done their homework'

Overwhelmingly, one of the major themes of the forum was the emphasis on the need for journalists to understand Aboriginal affairs in their social, cultural and historical background. Without providing this context, journalists failed to situate Aboriginal issues in a way that provides the community with any information to challenge existing prejudices. Many of the key speakers and participants returned to this theme as an essential means of providing the balance necessary for accurate Aboriginal affairs reporting.

1993 Boyer Lecturer Dot West from Radio Goolarri in Broome commented that one of the fundamental differences between non-Aboriginal media and Aboriginal media was the way in which non-Aboriginal media looked at land only from the perspective of its dollar value. The lack of sympathy from the mainstream media is contributing to an unwillingness on the part of the public to believe in the spiritual significance of land to the Aboriginal people.

Helen Lawrence from Edith Cowan University pointed out that:

Most journalists and radio announcers report on Aboriginal culture with very little background information about Aboriginal culture. The importance of journalist's responsibility is to inform oneself as fully as possible of any assignment that is being reported on...That doesn't seem to have happened with Aboriginal people.

She also commented that Mabo had exposed the little knowledge that non-Aboriginal people have on Aboriginal people and their culture.

Pam Foley from the Aboriginal Legal Service criticised the media for its slow reaction to the 1992 Mabo decision and journalists' lack of understanding about the land rights issue. She urged journalists to consult Aboriginal people through individuals, groups and organisations.

Nearly all Aboriginal key speakers emphasised the need for journalists to undertake more research to fulfil their ethical responsibilities.

Chris Smythe from the Media Arts Alliance suggested that the key to this lay in new training initiatives as suggested by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

'Things from time to time go wrong'

A theme developed by some of the Forum's speakers, and in particular the media representatives, was the relationship between the technical demands of reporting and the potential for inaccurate, unbalanced articles to be published. Both John Rudd (News Director of Channel Seven) and Paul Murray (Editor of The West Australian) attributed many of the failures of journalism to the pace demanded by the newsroom. Helen Lawrence suggested that this fast pace was in direct contract to the Aboriginal style and that in this environment, many journalists checked relatively few sources.

This issue was put under the spotlight during an afternoon panel session which discussed how the mechanics of industrial news production had created the offensive tone of 'Music, chants in Mabo rally'.

'We're not all one mob'

Kevin Dolman from the Aboriginal Legal Service and Dot West both emphasised the importance of not viewing the naturally divergent views of the Aboriginal communities, individuals and groups in Australia as more divisive than they really are. This was a perspective that was echoed by many other Forum participants.

The nature of news values has meant that conflict and division tend to be emphasised in some stories about Aboriginal people in a way that suggests an unrealistic homogeneity is demanded of these people as a group. Rather than differing viewpoints being interpreted as a superfluity of opinions, these are often presented in a way that distort the community's perception of Aboriginal unity.

Caution was also recommended by Helen Lawrence against utilising one Aboriginal opinion leader for 'an Aboriginal perspective'. Journalists needed to avoid accessing one Aboriginal voice where the person had little or no background in the area. Importantly, Ms Lawrence commented that the way Aboriginality was constructed and misrepresented in contemporary media accounts substantially ignored Aboriginal women's perspective by rendering them 'invisible and marginal.'

'We provide information that enable people to act'

Like the 1992 Media Forum and consistent with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody's recommendations, the importance of fostering indigenous media and integrating Aboriginal people into mainstream media were important issues raised at the 1994 Forum.

Dot West emphasised the importance of Aboriginal media in communicating with Aboriginal people about their own way of life and culture. She commented on the distinctive perspective they could provide on Aboriginal affairs as opposed to mainstream media. In the afternoon sessions she expressed concern that there were gaps in the coverage of Aboriginal broadcasting across the State, especially in the South West. Establishing new services required both initiative from the community and funding. The lack of resources experienced by Aboriginal broadcasters is reflected in terms of voluntary hours dedicated to keeping stations open.

Media Arts Alliance representative Chris Smythe commented that the union would have a clear role in establishing proper training, pay and working conditions to ensure Aboriginal media offered legitimate training and career opportunities.

'Let these two worlds combine, yours and mine, the door between us is not closed, just ajar.'

Chris Smythe said that he believed a major part of the obligation to getting greater involvement of indigenous people in the mainstream media fell upon the union which covered media people. He reported that the Media Alliance had employed an Aboriginal Employment Officer and an Industrial Officer to develop an employment strategy aimed at getting greater employment opportunities for indigenous people in the media. The union was holding talks with major media outlets to work out ways of achieving this, including new media as well as general film and television production.

The issue of Aboriginal people's involvement in the major media outlets was taken up in the afternoon panel sessions. Participants agreed upon the important role that Aboriginal people could play in a newsroom in terms of creating a better-informed journalistic culture. Paul Murray commented on the shortage of Aboriginal applicants for reporting positions in The West Australian; other participants suggested that a more encouraging environment was necessary to make Aboriginal workers feel comfortable working within the mainstream media industry.

Dot West commented that Aboriginal broadcasting requires Aboriginal people in all aspects of the job and that it was "no good just putting a pretty Aboriginal face on your screen if the editorial and managerial decisions are made by non-Aborigines."

'We are also tax payers in this country'

An issue highlighted by John Richardson's report and given greater emphasis at the media forum is the tendency of the media to report on Aboriginal communities as 'them' as opposed to 'us' (sometime used interchangeably with 'tax payers')

Dot West pointed to the offensiveness of the implication that 'tax payers' is a category which excludes Aboriginal people; it ignores the vital part they play in regional economics all over Australia. When Aboriginal affairs reporting by its very structure excludes Aboriginal people from the wider community, it becomes racistreporting. It tells readers that Aboriginal people are distinct from 'us' (whites and taxpayers) and should therefore be regarded with suspicion and caution the building blocks of racism.

Disputes and Procedures

A workshop for Aboriginal organisations and media management

The afternoon workshop entitled Dispute and Procedures a workshop for Aboriginal organisations and media management was one of the most productive discussions of the 1994 Media Forum in the issues and suggestions it raised.

Much of the dialogue between Paul Murray and various Aboriginal organisations centred on the 'Music, chants mark Mabo march' story in The West Australian (July 1993) that caused a good deal of offence to Aboriginal people. It provided a good case in point of how the mechanics of industrial reporting can unbalance a news item to produce an objectionable result.

Originally intended as a 'colour' addendum to a more 'serious' treatment of the march, the 'colour' story became instead the major (and only) story of the Mabo march.

Workshop participants were angry that, despite the many complaints submitted to the Australian Press Council about the story, no real action had been taken.

Dan O'Sullivan, a member of the Australian Press Council and a former editor-in-chief of The West Australian said he believed the purpose of the workshop was for people to understand how the APC dealt with complaints. But workshop participants argued that he had missed the point; the complaints procedure was inadequate.

Marjorie Anderson from the ABC commented that the ABC's editorial policies covered many of the situations that could arise in Aboriginal affairs reporting and that having Aboriginal staff in the ABC made their viewpoint accessible.

Tony Jenke from the Media Alliance made the point that Aboriginal people had little or no access to redress the things that appear in newspapers. They also had little opportunity to refute mining company's claims or articles which stereotyped them as a group.

Some of the major recommendations that emerged from the workshop include:

Bodies such as the Reconciliation Council could be urged to make funds and resources to provide Aboriginal groups with the access and ability to refute false perspectives of Aboriginal people that appear in the media.

There should be particular caution exercised by all media in writing what are termed 'ambience' stories; these should be seen as very dangerous in a cross cultural context. There is a need for extensive liaison with Aboriginal groups is these kind of articles are to be written;

There is a need to review employment and training practices from the media outlets in terms of editorial policies; particular in relation to things such as terms and bereavement.

News items should be screened for offensive or racist perspectives in a similar way to the way in which lawyers screen defamation articles.

The AJA and Press Council standards regarding offensive behaviour need to be tightened and minimum standards drafted. Codes and policies need to come into effect which could be enforced through racial vilification laws.

Coverage and contacts

A training workshop for journalists

Kevin Dolman (Media Officer for Aboriginal Legal Service) and Roger Simms (Chair of Journalism at Murdoch University) chaired a workshop session dealing with problems journalists face when reporting Aboriginal affairs.

The main points raised were:

Aboriginal perspectives needed to be included in news stories to ensure balanced reports were written;

Journalists have to develop contacts within the Aboriginal communities and organisations so that the correct spokesperson on an issue can be located;

Aboriginal people need training to deal with journalists and media organisations. ATSIC funding could be sought for regional councils to run media education workshops.

Changes are needed in the curriculum for journalism students and in the training of cadet journalists. Information about Aboriginal culture and history, taught by Aboriginal people and assignments on Aboriginal affairs marked by Aboriginal people must be included.

Work experience at indigenous media organisations and meeting Aboriginal people in the community would help journalists to become ware of the diversity of Aboriginal opinions.

Indigenous media operates differently from mainstream media. The pressure of working to deadlines does not exist so that reporters can spend more time gathering information.

Remote reporting

A workshop for non-metropolitan media organisations

Aboriginal broadcasting began in June 1976. At the time of the 1994 Media Forum there were three Aboriginal radio stations established in WA with a further three about to start. Nationally there are 80 media outlets for Aboriginal affairs and 500 hours a wek of Aboriginal broadcasting goes to air around Australia.

Radio Goolarri's Dot West said that it was vital that Aboriginal broadcasting continue to promote the Aboriginal point of view. She commented, however, on the difficulty of establishing these outlets without adequate resources and the constraints placed by the amount of voluntary hours dedicated to keeping stations open.

Workshop participants agreed that while Aboriginal stations allowed reporting of various indigenous perspectives, Aboriginal stories should be incorporated into non-Aboriginal programmes.

Suggestions included introducing positive discrimination legislation, requiring non Aboriginal media outlets to employ a minimum number of Aboriginal journalists. Aboriginal reporter Gina William from Golden West Network claimed, however, that such measures were insulting and patronising. Positive incentives such as cadetships and scholarships were a better option.

Ms West urged journalists to show respect and to take time to develop rapport with Aboriginal contacts. These relationships needed a lot more time and effort.

Reports of the afternoon sessions were supplemented by articles by 1994 Murdoch University journalism students. Excerpts of these articles have bee reprinted courtesy of Simon Lyons, Karen Smith, John Kargotich, Rosemary Brown, Stephanie Green and Richard O'Brien.

Louis Johnson Media Awards 1994

The Louis St John Johnson Media Awards were established as a response to Recommendation 206 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 1991. They aim to encourage excellence in reporting of Aboriginal affairs in Western Australia.

The 1994 awards were presented by Mr Bill Johnson of the Louis St John Johnson Memorial Awards.

The winners of the 1994 awards were as follows:

Excellence for reporting Aboriginal Affairs in Western Australia (Print Media)

Highly commended:

Wendy Evans

Community newspapers

Best entry:

Ted Barker & Trevor Gilmour

The West Australian -- for their series of editorials on Native Title Land Rights

Excellence in Reporting AboriginalAffairs in Western Australia

Highly commended:

Adrian Shaw

Warramah -- for his radio documentary 'Behind Closed Doors'

Best entry :

Rob Rashkie

ABC TV Perth -- for his series of stories on the 7.30 Report Christmas Creek

Best feature or documentary in screen media

Highly commended:

Michelle White

ABC TV -- for Prison Art

Best entry:

Frank Riejevic -- for Exile and the Kingdom

Best entry by Aboriginal/Islander people or organisations

Highly commended:

Michelle White

ABC TV -- for the Louis Johnson Story (Blackout)

Best entry:

Wayne Barker -- for Milli Milli

Special award of scholarship to Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander person

Des Raymond -- for Artist Up Front:

This award of $4000 goes to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or organisation in the form of a scholarship to develop a chosen project. It mya be a piece of investigative journalism for print media, a script development for documentary for feature film, radio or television. Or it may be completion of a larger project already underway. The scholarship can be presented as a separate award or it may be awarded to the winner of the Best entry by an Aboriginal or Islander person or organisation.

The 1994 Louis Johnson Awards were judged by a panel of seven:

Colleen Hayward (ACTU Executive)

Roger Simms (Journalist/Educator)

Nellie Green (Radio Broadcaster)

Hannah McGlade (ATSIC)

Kevin Dolman (Journalist, Aboriginal Legal Service)

Marlene Jackamarra (CRCC)

Peter Kennedy (WA Branch, Media Alliance)


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