Community Broadcasting shows Multiculturalism’s Successes

By Sarah Hunt
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This article is part of our March theme, which focuses on an ongoing challenge to Australian society: Race & Discrimination. Read our Editorial for more on this theme.

The Federal Government appears no closer to defining a clear vision of Australia’s migration strategy despite numerous policy changes throughout 2011.

While the Government engineers our migration policies, most Australians are concerned with our responsibility to those who have arrived on our shores.

Recently, the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council (NEMBC) conference was held in Launceston, bringing together multicultural community broadcasters from across Australia.

They debated practical initiatives to champion a truly multicultural society.

Conference keynote University of Melbourne Professor Ghassan Hage made it clear Australians could not wait for multicultural leadership from the Federal Government.

“We need a multicultural state, not a state with a multicultural policy,” Hage said.

Acceptance or rejection of multicultural policy is a moot point amongst most multicultural communities.

Multiculturalism is a lived Australian reality, rather than a policy that can be retracted or bestowed by governments when it is politically expedient.

Multiculturalism is a lived Australian reality, rather than a policy that can be retracted or bestowed by governments when it is politically expedient.

Multicultural community media has a central role in creating the multicultural state described by Hage.

Its inclusive mandate means that migrants, no matter how long they have been in Australia, can begin participating in debates about Australia’s identity.

Since multicultural community media began in Australia’s post-war years to provide settlement information and cultural maintenance, it has expanded to broadcast in over 90 languages on 100 stations, engaging 50 000 volunteers.

Multicultural broadcasters provide important discussions around mental health issues, youth engagement programs and support for Australia’s disproportionately large non-English speaking ageing population.

Furthermore, community broadcasting breaks down participatory barriers such as language, lack of resources and cultural awkwardness over how to define an ‘Australian’ story.

Melbourne radio station 3ZZZ’s Punjabi Youth Program, for example, connects with a burgeoning Indian population on its Saturday night program, broadcast at an hour when many migrants are working hospitality or taxi jobs.

This program was a particularly important platform for community debate and voice during last year’s Indian student attacks in Melbourne.

Lebanese-Australian Samah Hadid also said at the conference that her frustration at the depiction of Muslim-Australians encouraged her to start her own community program, eventually leading to her becoming Australia’s 2010 United Nations Youth Representative.

Multicultural community media doesn’t just serve specific language groups but is expanding its role to serve all Australians. It benefits the whole society by strengthening cultural bonds here and building Australia’s international relationships.

Multicultural community media doesn’t just serve specific language groups but is expanding its role to serve all Australians. It benefits the whole society by strengthening cultural bonds here and building Australia’s international relationships.

Technology is collapsing the traditional distances between local and international content. Tools such as podcasting, social media, blogging and freeware are ensuring Australia’s cultural voice has an international presence.

The NEMBC program E-champs, launched at the conference, trains refugees and new migrants to cover local news events for broadcast across the web.

Similarly, University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advanced Journalism is training Sudanese Australian community leaders to run their own news website.

Centre Director Michael Gawenda recently said the website’s goal would be not to cover just Sudanese-specific issues but Australian issues, with the added cultural knowledge of Sudanese-Australian content makers.

These platforms also are resource portals into unique Australian cultural perspectives on global debates.

Many Arabic speaking program makers are covering the Arab Spring directly by conducting interviews in Arabic with protesters on the ground in the Middle East.

Programs like these are crucial soft diplomacy initiatives for Australians to develop international communication competencies.

The economic and political rise of our Asian neighbours in particular means Australia should utilise all our cross-cultural communication resources to build a new generation of cosmopolitan thinkers.

The Federal Government is increasingly responding to the community push for multicultural media.

SBS recently announced plans to expand its present online Mandarin TV news program into other languages, giving important bilingual perspectives on Australian life.

Parliamentary Secretary Senator Kate Lundy also acknowledged the role of multicultural community broadcasting in helping Australians to participate as equal members of society at the conference.

“The ethnic broadcasting sector…is a part of Australia where you can really see our democracy in operation,” she said.

She confirmed the Federal Government’s commitment to an extra $12.5 million for community radio broadcasters during the 2011-12 budget.

In a political climate where migration is used for political point-scoring, it is important to keep in perspective Australia’s grassroots multicultural reality.

Community media provides an insight into our cultural diversity successes and shows us the type of cosmopolitan society we have become.

Sarah Hunt is an interviewer and writer specialising in international cross-cultural communications. She is Media Adviser to the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria and an SBS Ambassador to Victoria’s multicultural communities. She is founder of Hidden Documentary, Melbourne’s creative short form storytelling site. She has worked for Reuters (Indonesia), Dick Clark Productions (USA) and freelanced for numerous clients including ABC’s Australian Story program and Zapruder’s Other Films.

Twitter: @sarahuntress and @hiddendoco.

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