Speech: The Media & Remembering Sam Langford
There has been a lot of public discussion in the last few weeks about racism in our society. This has largely resulted from the massive antiracist Black Lives Matter protests that have been held across the world. As I said in the Senate last week, these are long-overdue conversations taking place about the way that racism operates in our society, not just in its interpersonal, everyday, so-called 'casual' forms but also through systems, structures and institutions. An ongoing frustration for many antiracist advocates is the often poor and inadequate way that the news media reports on issues of race and racism. This can range from a lack of understanding about how racism works to actually perpetuating racism, both unacceptable.
In 2018-19, the Australian Human Rights Commission received 27 formal racial hatred complaints in relation to views expressed in the media—more than one complaint per fortnight. Complaints are also frequently made to the Australian Press Council, and this is just the tip of a truly ugly iceberg. We know many instances will not be formally reported, nor can one report the kinds of biases that see stories on race spiked or underreported before they even reach the pages and our screens. Independent research released last year by antiracism organisation All Together Now found that more than half of race related commentary in Australia negatively targets racial and cultural minorities. I quote:
Muslim Australians were the most frequently targeted, with 63 of the 281 media pieces sampled discussing Muslims specifically. More than 80% of these pieces discussed Muslims and Islam in a negative way.
Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon, and it's not likely to abate soon. The reality is that there simply aren't any substantive consequences for being racist in the Australian media. You can have a successful media career after being found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act.
Part of resolving this will inevitably involve ensuring that the media more adequately reflects the racial diversity in our community. If journalists come from communities impacted by racism, it follows that their reporting is more likely to be sensitive to issues of race. The Australian media is overwhelmingly white. Newsrooms should be actively hiring, mentoring and platforming journalists of colour, including the Indigenous journalists who are already doing exceptional work in a frequently hostile industry. It's the responsibility of outlets to try and rebalance this and ensure the media is representative of the huge diversity in our community.
If our media is also to represent a diversity of views, there should be a large range of outlets, not an oligarchy. There must be space for smaller, online, often youth focused publishers. Tragically, in the past few weeks and months, we have seen the closure of outlets including BuzzFeed News in Australia and 10 daily. It is smaller, youth-media outlets that have followed issues that bigger publishers simply won't touch. A case in point is the coverage of abortion law and access in Australia by Gina Rushton of BuzzFeed News. This incredibly important issue simply would not have received the detailed, ongoing attention that it has in the last few years without Gina's reporting. Likewise, the landscape of reporting on refugees and the impacts of politics on young people is impoverished for the absence of the likes of BuzzFeed, 10 daily and their reporters.
While reflecting on the contributions of young journalists, I want to pay tribute to Sam Langford, who tragically passed away last month, aged 23. Sam interned in my New South Wales parliament office and was simply a joy to be around. An amazing writer and thinker at such a young age, Sam was a force of nature in their student journalism and work at Junkee and SBS. Their writing spoke truth to power and raised the voices of those usually left out of the conversation. Their endless curiosity and the joy they took in sharing their wonder at the world made the days of countless readers. Sam was so near and dear to my heart. They were incredibly talented, most thoughtful and truly kind—always there with unconditional love for their family and friends. My thoughts are with Sam's family and friends through this time. We will miss you so much, Sam.