Bronwyn Morgan, Senior Account Manager at Buchan Communications Group, writes:

Dot points for consideration in the response:

A shortage of positive Indigenous stories is not the problem hence the response below does not focus on finding positive stories.

Unfortunately most media outlets are not motivated to cover positive Indigenous stories (except those relating to sport) believing there is little newsworthiness or controversy and therefore little interest.

A two-pronged approach is required:

1. Non-media based campaign

2. Media education campaign

1. Non-media based campaign

* Change Australian history curriculum throughout the education system to position white settlement in 1788 as one point in the 60,000 year history of people living in Australia, rather than the starting point of Australian history.

* Break down segregation of Australians and ‘Indigenous’ Australians through an advertising campaign which profiles everyday Australians, who happen to be Indigenous, doing everyday things with everyday concerns.

* Better incorporate Indigenous Australians into celebrations of Australian history.

* Review the celebrated meaning of ‘Australia Day’ and change the day to reflect the true history of people living in Australia.

* Celebrate Indigenous culture more prominently.

* Determine what people believe it means to be Australian and highlight where Indigenous Australians celebrate similar values.

* Raise awareness of what Indigenous people do better than non-Indigenous people (eg looking after the environment) and use this as a platform to increase acceptance.

* Create a program where young people have the chance regularly to interact with young and older Indigenous Australians.

2. Media education campaign

* Establish Walkley award for Indigenous reporting thereby giving media a reason to report positive Indigenous stories.

* Assess terminology used by media when reporting Indigenous stores and determine if it perpetuates a negative image of Indigenous Australians.

* Assess general news to determine if there is a negative bias in reporting eg if the rate of domestic violence is similar in non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities, determine if media reporting unfairly skews coverage of domestic violence issues to Indigenous communities.

* Encourage leaders in Indigenous communities to condemn antisocial behaviour.

* Partner with a media organisation (a sponsorship perhaps) to help promote greater understanding, tolerance and acceptance of Indigenous Australians into society.

Professor Mick Dodson, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the ANU, responds:

Bronwyn is dead right in saying that media has shown little interest in good news stories about Indigenous Australia. Last week, I had the honour of giving out awards to superbly well-run and successful organisations who won this year’s Indigenous Governance Awards.

The story wasn’t deemed newsworthy by most newspapers and current affairs programs that run stories on violence and dysfunction on a regular basis.

If media could have picked up dirt on any of the organisations or if I’d got stuck into the Government in my speech, it would have been front page news across the country.

Bronwyn’s ideas about the importance of teaching kids about Indigenous history are timely. The communiqué issued out of the history summit held recently by Education Minister Julie Bishop included some important words about the teaching of Indigenous history (as Reconciliation Australia Co-Chair Jackie Huggins wrote in The Australian, read here).

For the first time, historians at the summit who’ve had and used their power to write us in and out of the history books, acknowledged that we are an essential part of the Australian story. So did the Prime Minister and Minister. Once that is reflected in school curricula there’s real potential to change the national psyche.

Browyn’s point about personal contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is also spot on. That’s what reconciliation is all about and when people experience it first hand, it can have a profound impact.

As for her ideas on educating the media, I suspect it will take more than a Walkley Award to encourage balanced coverage of what’s happening out there. We have to keep plugging away though, as Browyn says, including continuing to condemn anti-social behaviour (Aboriginal women and men do this consistently and from time to time generate a flurry of publicity for it, as I did in 2003).

It’s a hopeful sign that media organisations are starting to talk to Reconciliation Australia about what they can do at the corporate level, including cultural awareness emersion for reporters. Journalists are people too, and personal contact and the understanding you get from that will encourage more informed coverage.

Peter Fray

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