The ABC funding cuts and the multicultural media

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The recent cuts to the ABC’s funding by $254 million have left many in despair. Although expected, it came as a rude shock to some as close to 400 ABC staff will lose their jobs. Since it’s a public broadcaster, the debate, between Labor and the Coalition, on the cuts has been quite acrimonious.
No matter which side of the debate you are on, we all need to ask questions at this critical juncture. Are Australian mainstream channels representing the many ethnic voices in Australia? How are these cuts impacting us? Do we need the mainstream press to represent us? Do we have a voice in the mainstream media? Does the mainstream media really care about us and our place in this society? How many of us watch ABC as opposed to Al Jazeera, NDTV or BBC? How can we lobby the government to make media funding more representative?
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When the debate was brewing over media cuts, an incident came to my mind. When Melbourne witnessed a taxi strike in April 2008 SBS did a program on anger management. In the program one of the leaders from the taxi protest was asked questions on anger management. Imagine the background to this: You had one of the biggest labour strikes in recent history where Australia’s second largest city came to a standstill following the dispute over demands for safety screens in taxis. None of the channels had any indepth discussions on this strike. ABC of course did a few stories on international students.
The only program I can recall that had a remote bearing on the taxi drivers’ strike was this SBS program, but it was on anger management. I thought such a significant working class incident in the world’s most liveable city deserved more attention. Another episode is domestic violence. Most ethnic newspapers don’t have the resources to comprehensively report this issue and produce analytical stories. Not much research has gone into this topic as well. When recently in Victoria a young couple perished in a case of murder-suicide leaving a toddler to state care, we called the police for information on the matter and they were hardly forthcoming (read the Victorian Premier’s response to The Indian Sun inside). Incidents like these underline the importance of the ethnic media. Our readers interact with us for information on a constant basis. But we don’t have the right support from any government administrative bodies to cover matters that concern the community. None of the trade delegations to India include representatives from the ethnic media. The list of exclusions is endless.
Interest in mainstream TV is definitely declining. I wouldn’t write it off by saying it’s a thing of the past. But they seriously do have a challenge from the emerging new media—the street press, the growing number of independent digital platforms, ethnic media and more. This is not because of any prejudices a reader nurtures against the mainstream press, but because shifts in technology and fragmenting audiences, and the mainstream media’s deliberate censorship and/or formulaic stereotypical stories about non-White people in Australia.
The mainstream media has not adapted well to the demographic changes happening around them although they have brilliantly adapted to the economic environment by finding ways of tapping into online media.
I’m not sure if I should be alarmed about the cuts to the ABC. The financial uncertainty faced by job losses is the bleak side of the story. ABC staff and journalists across the country in the mainstream media are only facing the heat that many of us experience on a daily basis trying to run new and emerging media platforms in Australia. Generating news and content for a changing audience is a challenge that many media professionals are dealing with today.
The SBS has evolved a little bit since its program on anger management. It has even got an Indian director at the top. But the point I’m trying to make here is how even when there’s something serious that confronts the community, our voices are not heard and our debates are not discussed in the mainstream. We need serious support from both federal and state governments to effectively relay information to our audience. ABC’s cuts may not impact us directly, but a government that’s not forthcoming to assist emerging and new media will seriously undermine a growing and important sector of Australia’s democratic landscape.

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