Governments must stop the patronising attitude to multicultural media

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted most significantly on multicultural communities, state and federal governments continue to ignore the media they rely upon

Since the beginning of the COVID crisis not a single multicultural media outlet has been invited or been granted access into the daily media briefings from the Victorian Premier or the Australian Prime Minister.

Earlier this year as the reality of the pandemic hit our shores and federal and state governments imposed the first lockdown we saw fear enter into the psyche of the entire community. Supermarket shelves were emptied as a collective primal instinct set in. People envisaged the worst, and it was the government and the media’s role to allay those fears.

At Neos Kosmos we immediately assured our staff and our readers that it was ‘business as usual’, in fact our commitment to report the news was heightened, not only for accuracy but with ongoing rolling coverage as developments unfolded. Our community needed us more than ever.

It has been very difficult to produce the essential service we provide to the community. As with most publishers, we had to cut back our freelance contributors and slash costs wherever we could as advertising revenue plummeted.

Meanwhile our ongoing coverage, in Greek and English, was being distilled from the established mainstream news sources (ABC, News Corporation and Nine outlets). This is not uncommon for any small publisher who needs to cover national or state news, with limited resources.

As the devastating aged care crisis in Victoria emerged in July we decided to ask the Victorian government questions directly on behalf of our readers and the community. Our most respected community members, our parents and grandparents, the pioneers of our community, who sacrificed so much, had been compromised by endemic failures, at both state and federal level. Many began to die.

We made our first request to attend the Victorian Premier’s daily media conference on August 3, as the crisis of the second wave in Victoria was unfolding. As a respected publisher with 63 years of journalism experience behind us, it was a no brainer, we needed to ask questions directly to our Premier. To our surprise we were denied access… and have been denied access ever since.

Earlier in the year, the federal government had set up weekly multicultural media briefings by Minister Alan Tudge, the Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. This was welcome, however, these conferences are more government public relations than the opportunity for media to scrutinise and ask unvetted questions. Media must either submit questions or ask them via chat, leaving it up to the Minister’s advisors as to which get answered and when.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on August 21. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Multicultural media is treated as a second-class citizen, and in the words of a current Victorian Minister, whose name we shall not reveal, it is being treated in a very ‘paternalistic’ manner. Over the past three and half months we have lobbied our leaders, whilst continuing to request access to the Premier’s briefings. We are continuously denied, being given excuses and that our request will be ‘put forward’.

Well over 150 Greek Australian Victorians have died over the past few months from COVID, an unproportionally high number of the 800 plus that have lost their lives in this state. Our government will not let the community’s represented media ask unvetted questions. Why?

We are told that due to COVID there are limited media placings in the auditorium due to social distancing requirements. We don’t make the cut. We rely on the likes of the ABC, The Australian, The Age and Sky News. When suggesting that we do not need to be physically present, but to be able to ask questions via Zoom, or the like, we were told this suggestion would be ‘put forward’. That was in July. We are still waiting.

That fact of the matter is that no government has wanted to deal with the ‘headache’ of having to manage tens, if not hundreds, of requests from multicultural media outlets to attend conferences. It has even been suggested that it would be easier to consider if we (multicultural media) had a representative group.

Such a suggestion is valid and overdue, and is currently in discussion, however no broad industry group could speak on behalf of vastly different communities and media outlets, each with unique circumstances, needs and even politics.

There is no excuse, governments of all persuasions need to be able to assess a media outlets credibility and public interest, and we need to ask direct questions at briefings. Something must change and government needs to act. Governments must stop the paternalistic behaviour and engage with our journalists. Journalists who understand their communities and who can not only ask the right questions but to make government and mainstream media aware of the nuances of any particular community.

In Melbourne’s most recent outbreak at East Preston Islamic College a mainstream journalist asked the Victorian Premier at his media conference last Friday ‘what improvements had been made in communications with non-English speaking communities’.

The Premier replied “I think that every day we look for different ways, enhanced ways to get to some communities that are pretty hard to get to, they’re hard to sometimes connect with. And that can be language issues, cultural issues, all sorts of things.”

He then went on to say, “we engage with community leaders, we use multicultural media, we use mainstream media, all manner of social media platforms..” and also said “there’s a constant search for ways in which we can better link with the diverse communities that make up our city and state.”

Not a single multicultural media journalist was present at that conference.