UN launches campaign to change migrant narratives in Australia

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Antoniette Lattouf, Ben Doherty, Andrea Ho and Janice Petersen discuss coverage of migrant stories. Photo: Adriana Wainstock

Newsroom students,  Adriana Wainstok and Yi Xu, attended the launch of the  ‘MyGreat Story’ and collaborated on this report. 

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched the ‘MyGreat Story’ campaign in Potts Point, Sydney on September 14. In partnership with Love Franky and Google News Initiatives, the event encourages early-career journalists and students to rethink how migration is spoken about in the media. 

The campaign brings UN Human Rights’ global #StandUp4Migrants initiative to Australia and aims to encourage positive attitudes towards migrants. In partnership with Love Frankie, ‘MyGreat Story’ aims to build human rights-based narratives and promote a culture of welcoming migrants in Australia – by using food to create common ground and a safe space to reimagine dialogue on migration.

The event included a sharing session on “Challenges with today’s migration narratives” and “Ethical Reporting on Migration”, followed by panel discussions on “ Including migrant voices in your reporting” and “How can young journalists avoid harmful migrant narratives in their newsrooms?” featuring renowned editors and journalists.
SBS anchor Janice Petersen presented the 3-hour event, joined by nine speakers, including Dr Pia Oberoi, senior advisor on migration and human rights for the Asia Pacific Region at the UN Human Rights, and Antoniette Lattouf, journalist, author and co-founder of Media Diversity Australia.  
Dr Pia Oberoi lectures on the colloquial use of the term migrant in Australia. Photo: Adriana Wainstok

The panel discussions aimed to explain the importance of replacing narratives of fear division and exclusion of this significant part of Australia’s population.  

“Almost 50 per cent of the Australian population is a first- or second-generation migrant. There is an urgent need to question and change the way we speak about migrants and migrations,” said Dr Oberoi.  

Latouff drew the attention of the journalists and university students to the fact that Australia does not collect any demographical data on migrants in the job market. When Media Diversity Australia released its report, the results revealed that only white Australian men occupy the roles of News Director in the country. 

“We have repeated the report now and we will be able to see a few changes, but there is a long way to go for an effective change in the status quo,” said Latouff. 
She also mentioned the different approach media has toward migrants, saying this is due to the lack of diversity in the voices that write the stories. 
“Look at these headlines. A blonde, white guy who does a terrorist act is a guy who did something wrong; an Islamic guy that does the same is called a terrorist.” 
The speakers agreed that integrating migrants into the media sphere is an urgent call to start telling stories in the right way.
 “Having migrants telling the stories is what will break these stereotypes,” Latouff said. “It is about mitigating misinformation and putting an end to disinformation.” 
Ben Doherty discusses the bias in media coverage. Photo: Electric Collective

Andrea Ho, Director of Education at Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas, provided another perspective on journalism diversity and unequal employment opportunities. She encouraged student journalists who are not Anglo-Saxon to utilise their unique advantage to get jobs.

“With the progress of society, employers would like to have journalists from different contexts,” she said. “Journalists who speak other languages, especially who have sense of the culture behind the languages, are better able to cover the stories of specific groups of people.”

Journalists from The Guardian answered the question about how to avoid deepening stereotypes of migrants in news coverage. Immigrant correspondent Ben Doherty suggested that coverage by others can be biased and reinforce their image of vulnerability and marginalisation.

“It is vital to let the protagonist tell his or her own story,” he said.

Reporter Mostafa Rachiwani said love may be the only antidote to prejudice in reporting issues.

Mostafa Rachiwani talks about the role of love in interviews. Photo: Electric Collective.

“Being on the sidelines can cause reporters to focus too much on clicks and the dramatic storyline at the expense of the information that the protagonists need to convey,” he said. “Love the person you’re interviewing, then you can really help them to get rid of the vulnerable dilemma.”

Adriana Wainstok is a graduate in International Relations from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and is currently studying for her Master’s degree in Media Practice at the University of Sydney. Her main fields of interest are politics, international affairs, and culture.
Yi Xu is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Sydney, majoring in Digital Culture and Sociology. He is committed to exploring the future of journalism and documenting the social change with his camera and words. He can be reached at LinkedIn and Twitter.  Email: yixu8902@uni.sydney.edu.au Moblie: +61 432356845 or +86 15925674949.