Content Warning: This article contains mentions of racial discrimination against First Nations people.
ABC recently apologized to staff for racism and a lack of cultural sensitivity in its newsrooms. This came after ABC’s indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse staff told an internal group that they did not feel welcome in their workplace, that their ideas were not being heard, and that they were being abused online by the public. .
Unfortunately, these problems are not unique to ABC and exist in other media outlets and newsrooms.
We also know that media organizations can produce content that is racist or hostile towards First Nations people. Decades of research show, with few exceptions, that many of Australia’s leading media organizations have unfairly reported on First Nations peoples over the years and continue to do so.
This reporting has included racist caricatures, prejudiced stereotypes, issues of cultural identity, and depictions of First Nations people as violent or victimized.
Racist and inappropriate portrayals of First Nations people can also make newsrooms and other media outlets unsafe places to work for Indigenous journalists, as well as influencing how First Nations issues are covered and thought about. Nations.
But it does not have to be like that. Australians working in the media can improve their cultural competence during their university education. In this way, they can enter and contribute to workplaces prepared to interact ethically and respectfully and report on stories outside of their own cultures.
However, our new study shows that many Australian universities with journalism programs have a lot of work to do to include cultural safety in their curricula.
Read more: The inclusion of indigenous peoples in the media is increasing, but there is still room for improvement
Australia needs cultural safety in its newsrooms
Journalists can help shape national conversations and can influence the attitudes of audiences through the way they choose to report. That is why it is essential that these journalists are culturally safe in the way they communicate about communities and individuals outside of their own culture.
Cultural safety aims to create a space where “there is no aggression, challenge or denial of” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities and experiences.
It is built through non-indigenous people who listen deeply to First Nations perspectives. It means sharing power and resources in a way that supports indigenous self-determination and empowerment. It also requires non-Indigenous people to address unconscious bias, racism and discrimination inside and outside the workplace.
First Nations groups and high level institutions have been asking for more experience and training in this area for decades.
The 1991 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Custodial Deaths called for journalism education to consider
in consultation with the media industry and media unions, the creation of specific study units dedicated to and coverage of Aboriginal issues.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples notes that the Australian media too often spreads “false or misinformed myths and stereotypes about Australia’s First Peoples, which in turn influence public opinion unfavourably”.
This racism creates
a debilitating individual impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, devaluing their cultural pride and identity and having adverse impacts on their physical and mental health.
In 2009, the National Network for Indigenous Higher Education recommended that universities “systematically incorporate indigenous perspectives into the curriculum.”
In 2011, Universities Australia issued the expectation that “all graduates of Australian universities will have the knowledge and skills necessary to interact in a culturally competent way with indigenous communities”.
Read more: First Nations children make up about 20% of missing children, but get a fraction of media coverage
In our study, we reviewed over 100 media/journalism reviews from a sample of over 10% of Australian universities with journalism programs in 2021. We found that only one had an explicit focus on an indigenous issue. Our interviews with 17 journalism students revealed how absent or minimal their education on indigenous issues has been.
In the words of a sophomore college student:
More definitely needs to be done because the histories and issues related to indigenous peoples are such a big topic. And it would be very helpful for people who become journalists to understand their role in communication and storytelling and the influence their words have on the public perception of indigenous people as well.
The students we interviewed largely expressed a desire to receive more training on indigenous issues in Australia. They stated that this would help them gain confidence in reporting on First Nations Peoples in a respectful and culturally safe manner.
Students also thought that their universities could integrate indigenous content and perspectives in a more sustained and focused way. “It can’t just be that one week we talk about racism,” according to a third-year college student. More education on indigenous issues would also benefit First Nations students. An indigenous participant in our study stated:
Even with the simple fact that more indigenous journalists show up, you can talk to them, find out what it’s really like for them to be like a black sheep, essentially, of a white-dominated industry. I think there is a need to be able to put more indigenous perspectives and knowledge into education there.
Read more: For an indigenous perspective on ‘Australia Day’, here’s a quick guide to First Nations media platforms
Journalistic training must include cultural safety
One possible solution could be to increase the number of First Nations journalists in Australian newsrooms. However, the burnout rate for these journalists is high due to toxic workplace conditions. This contributes to the low proportion of indigenous journalists in Australia.
Universities should provide their staff and students with time and resources to carefully consider how to work with and report on First Nations Peoples. This would allow for a more culturally secure way of working. This could also provide a safer space for indigenous peoples who wish to play a role in journalism. Hopefully, it could address the burnout of these journalists when they join the media workforce.
The integrity of our media system and the way our nation engages with indigenous issues depend on it.