Why I Didn’t Pursue A Career In Australia’s Media: Facing Racism vs. Chasing Passion

When it comes to talking about Australia’s media, the topic of racism is bound to come up. It’s no secret white, Western faces and voices are what we usually see and hear in this industry, ironically in a culturally diverse country.

Growing up, I wanted to be a radio presenter or producer. Live talkback and pre-recorded infotainment radio programs fascinated me – voices over the airwaves nimbly informing and entertaining at the same time. At university, I took communications subjects, learning about the Gutenberg press and the ins-and-outs of writing for online publications.

Sometimes we look at the media and wonder why we are seeing what we are seeing | Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle.

Sometimes we look at the media and wonder why we are seeing what we are seeing | Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle.

As part of my tertiary studies, I also completed a month-long internship as a journalist at SBS Radio (SBS is Australia’s largest public broadcaster providing multicultural and multilingual media services to Australians). But when I graduated from university, the last thing I wanted to do was work in a newsroom.

Cultural hierarchies saturate Australia’s media industry. Recently there has been talk public broadcasters are whitewashing their newsrooms alongside Australian mainstream media outlets. For someone of non-Anglo descent, why chase a career in Australia’s media when it seems impossible for us to make a mark here?

As an intern, I compiled segments on international affairs for SBS’s News and Current Affairs evening news bulletin. My supervisor constantly reminded me to incorporate Australian angles within the bulletins – quoting an Australian spokesperson typically did the job. But what intrigued me was the makeup of the current affairs radio team I was part of at the time: around eight reporters, eight Caucasian, full-time reporters hailing from Australia and Europe, speaking with Western accents.

Often, the familiar is comfort because it hits home and it’s what we are used to. More than likely this sentiment is what local media play on to get an audience; majority of Australians come from Anglo backgrounds. As Welsh academic Raymond Williams talks about emotional bonding and the notion of “structures of feelings”:

“We are talking about characteristic elements of impulse, restraint, and tone; specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships…it is a structured formation.”

At times it's challenging trying to fit in in a place that we aren't comfortable in.

At times it’s challenging trying to fit in in a place that we aren’t comfortable in.

Then again, migrants are every part of Australia today and deserve a place in local media. But this isn’t so because white privilege has arguably dominated Australian society since the days of the White Australia Policy. During my internship, I was assigned a same-sex marriage feature piece to work on. Though I researched and wrote the whole story, it was one of my Anglo-accented colleagues who voiced-over the five minute piece – my supervisor commented my diction, to loosely put it, was all over the shop. Was it because of the tinge of a Singapore-Malaysian accent on the tip of my Australian tongue? Confused and feeling a bit worthless, I quietly accepted the decision then.

For some of us of non-Western background, why put on a persona at the expense of expressing our true cultural self for the media? Assimilation can very well bring us closer to others who then might be more inclined to get to know our background. Through the familiar, the unfamiliar can become familiar: for instance, Australia has embraced Chinese Australian Poh Ling Yeow after her stint on Masterchef where she served both Aussie and Asian cuisine. Also, why put up with unfavourable portrayals of cultural minorities on Aussie TV? Maybe we might be stereotypically shy and want to distance ourselves from these representations – less talk, less attention paid to such portrayals.

Every media outlet, every organisation, leans towards certain worldviews and values. When my supervisor handed me the same-sex marriage piece to work on, I felt humbled. Humbled at the opportunity to be a journalist reporting news of the moment and not “just another diverse face”, not just a non-white face reporting on non-white issues. It also took months to set up my internship; if I didn’t have the skills for it, unlikely I would’ve gotten it.

Perhaps this answers the question why non-white media professionals accept cultural imbalances in this industry. Perhaps it’s a privilege to be on TV or radio no matter how small our role because at the very least someone recognises our presence, culture, in the slightest of ways (even stereotypes hold true around the world). It’s a chance to inspire others no matter their background to follow in our footsteps – presence often speaks a thousand words. On the changes within inter-personal dynamics that something out of the ordinary brings, philosopher Marshall McLuhan writes:

“The medium is the message.”

The more we observe, the more we see how the world works and its flaws.

The more we observe, the more we see how the world works and its flaws.

Racism is a two way street. Sometimes watching or listening to a foreign language show on TV or radio, we wonder what’s going on. At university, I was interested in helping out on Mandarin pop-music community radio programs – but because I don’t speak Chinese, instead I was offered presenting/producing spots on English-narrated Asian pop-music shows. In Australia, at times minority communities, cultural cliques sharing similar traits, stick together in isolation.

Working in the media looks glamorous. Presenters on the frontline – being a part of history as breaking news unfold. Editors behind-the-scenes – fiddling with photos in Photoshop bringing out unsung stories. The harsh reality, though, is that often in this field, one puts themselves on a pedestal for all eyes and others will judge – assumptions about appearance, assumptions about culture.

Unless one holds a senior position, working in the media often comes with a pay packet leaning towards the lower end of the average wage bracket. I guess my Chinese-Malaysian parents were right about having a hard life studying the arts. Over the last two years, it has been a struggle finding a stable job and income.

During the last week of my unpaid internship at SBS, I felt weary. Weary of strict newsroom deadlines…and I realised I didn’t love news media enough to be a journalist for life.

Stepping out of the SBS newsroom for the last time on my last day, the chilly Melbourne winter night air slapped my bare cheeks. Stinged my eyes. Pinched my nose. Condensation vapour puffing out of my mouth, I realised observing the world enthralls me. Storytelling through the written word, enthralls me. Aren’t we all storytellers: we’re storytellers through every action we make, our own walking freak show – we’re our own media in an abstract sense.

Sometimes what we love doing is right in front of us.

Sometimes what we love doing is right in front of us.

Although the script is ours to set on independent and niche media platforms, not always we’ll be heard. There are millions of voices out there clamouring to be heard and often, many ideas have been said already. Blogging about cultural diversity on this blog: some posts resonate better with others; some agree and some vehemently disagree with what I’ve written.

Still, what many of us publish on blogs and other online spaces is art, art created from the heart for nothing in return. In the words of McLuhan again, “Art is whatever you can get away with.” However, every story crafted for mainstream media too is art…to a degree, perhaps. A racist opinion is still a perspective but one that’s discriminatory, and everyone deserves a right to express themselves.

Would I do the SBS Radio internship all over again if I had the chance? Certainly. Anything to champion cultural diversity. And would be a chance nevertheless to tell stories through words – second time round in the newsroom with less nerves and a stronger voice.

Did you give up chasing a certain career? Do you think Australia’s media is racist?

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195 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Pursue A Career In Australia’s Media: Facing Racism vs. Chasing Passion

    • It was indeed frustrating at times during my internship, but I certainly walked away all the more wiser about what really matters to me career-wise. Hopefully one day in Australia diverse faces will become a norm in the media. Someday 🙂

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  1. Love the photos. Were they done on long exposure with a digital camera rather than a mobile phone? What lens and camera did you use if I may ask?

    I was told that the camera on Iphone 6 and Iphone5s are good and it takes good photos.

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  2. Most media in almost any countries are bias in their reporting hence I wasn’t surprised to see that you are treated differently because of the skin you wore. Funny that I would thought Australia are more tolerant towards racial diversity. But don’t give up on your dream, your passion, strive on if it’s not in this country then somewhere else.

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    • That, is such an honest thing to say. And so true. Each media outlet is usually controlled and owned by a company with certain political affiliations. Working in the media has been a dream my whole life. It still is painful to think about it, but I think I am meant to do blogging and freelance writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you are worth more than listening to people telling you what to do and what not to when you know those people who control your rice bowl are bias and tiny-minded. You probably will be much more in pain working under these management. Instead, you are able to pursue in media but try it in different angle perhaps not journalism but as a professional writer, maybe for a magazine or a publication. You’ll find your own little corner in this world if you pursue your passion and believe in it hard and long enough.

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        • Aside from skills, “cultural fit” also is what many employers tend to look for. A lot of the people I’ve encountered working in the media – be it commercial, public or community media – tend to be outgoing and outspoken, and have a sharp sense of style about them. I’m the complete opposite, introverted and am not a huge fan of the latest fashion.

          But that’s wise advise – carving out your own niche from a different angle. That was my intention when I started this blog, to share my writing and speak up about multiculturalism. Maybe this is as good as it gets, but I’ll keep on doing what I love.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Cultural fit is what will kill a company because it is not diversify enough to have different opinions and looking things from a different angle. I don’t think you will stop at just writing your blog, I believe you will take your writing to a higher level one day, perhaps an ebook publication. 🙂 keep on doing what you are loving! That’s the spirit.

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  3. From the perspective of your career, I think the better question is “does it matter if Australia is racist?”

    As a white foreigner living and working in Korea, I’ve found that worrying about racist behavior is kind of a waste of time. Yes, I’m a sexually threatening quasi-monster to a lot of conservative people. No, I can’t change it. No, I don’t worry about their opinions. Yes, there are ways to make their biases irrelevant.

    Racism is just another obstacle and there are ways to overcome. For me, the ways I deal with (certain people I have no choice about being close to who consider me a racial pollutant) mostly boil down to cultural fluency. I isolate racial enemies just like any other enemies, going out of my way to become friends with their husbands/wives. I cow racial enemies just like any other enemies, in the case of Korea, knowing more than 99% of Koreans about Korean history and more than 99.9% of Koreans about Confucianism goes a long ways. Just like any other situation, I try to remember that victimhood is repugnant. But most of all, I just remember that racial biases are mostly subconscious, “good” and “bad” people are mostly fiction and I try not to take it personally.

    Racism, by it’s very nature, isn’t about you.

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    • “does it matter if Australia is racist?” That is a very good question indeed. No matter where we are, there is bound to be someone or a few someones who have a different background compared to us. At the end of the day, racism is inevitable in a sense: where there is diversity, there will be cultural misunderstandings.

      But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to see the other person’s point of view. We don’t need to accept that, but respect it. It is impressive to hear you know a lot about Korean culture, and I’m sure it gives you an understanding as to how the way life in Korea is there today.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I finally am catching up on all my fave bloggers. Happy Wednesday little one. How are you? Well I hope. Big squishy hugs. Mwah!

    You know something, I dont actually watch or read the news, and this at times has landed me in some very hot water, people thinking I am narrow minded, dense and ignorant, but honestly I find so much of what we are being fed, negative and detrimental and very rarely come away feeling better for the experience. Sooooo not sure I can answer your question re Australia’s media being racist.

    I can absolutely confirm that I gave up on chasing a career in cooking, it was devastating, took me years to find a way to incorporate it back into my everyday and in a way I was comfortable with too. I think we should get a medal for finding something we actually enjoy and love, and not belt ourselves up because we ‘gave up’.

    Anyways, off to catch up on your other amazing and thought provoking posts. Love to you little sis. xox

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    • To be honest, I don’t think you are the only one. I am not a huge news follower and only read the headlines. Racism in Australia somehow ends up there often enough… As for watching TV, I really don’t have time for that and don’t unless it’s research for an article I’m writing.

      You deserve one big gold medal for still sticking to cooking outside what you normally do. Your dinner photos on Twitter are mouth-watering and I hope when you are feeling better, you can talk about these dishes and healthy eating on your blog. Talk soon, big sis ❤

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  5. “with less nerves and a stronger voice” – the challenge to blandness and racism in Australian media has to come from voices such as this. SBS does this to some degree but not enough if your experience is anything to go by. Unless the strong voices speak out the status quo remains. The parallel I think of is the women surgeons who spoke out recently about the harassment and threats from male colleagues, and how widespread this is.

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    • You are right. Racism and sexism does exist not only in Australia’s media but in other sectors of the country too. That is such a great example to share. Speaking out is often easier said than done. And in the event we do speak up, there’s no guessing if there’s anyone who will take us seriously.

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  6. Another interesting post/question, Mabel. I have no idea about Australia and racism though. Media here in Sweden have several foreign born journalists, speakers and news readers. They all speak inpeccable Swedish, some with an accent. We also have people in the news from different parts of Sweden, using different dialects. Honestly the latter ones are often more difficult to understand than any other media persons.
    I believe, that it’s very important to see a wider representation of your country’s people in media. And, I agree with one of your commenters that you must not take this personally – it’s not you!
    Keep writing. People will read you.

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    • It sounds like Sweden is welcoming of those from diverse backgrounds and have unique sets of skills. I wanted to say, “foreign talent” but then again, some people have taken offense at that term.

      “People will read you.” Thank you, Leya. Very nice of you to say that. Perhaps, one day I will make a living out of writing but I’m not counting on it at this stage 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. There is so much accuracy in your article, I definitely think there’s a diversity problem in Australian media. It’s good to see people and celebrities starting to voice out these issues in the US and Hollywood, I’m wishing that this will influence Australia in turn too. I’m currently studying a film based media course at uni and I’m honestly so frightened about my future as well. I don’t want to give up but with the way things are currently, I’m always having doubts and trying to think of a back up plan.
    I’m currently running a campaign to raise awareness of asian representation in Australian media if you’re interested in taking a look!
    https://bambooceiling.wordpress.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/breakingthebambooceiling/
    https://twitter.com/bamboo_ceiling_

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    • It is true that the media in America seem to be more welcoming to non-Anglos, and Australia needs to be more of the same. It has been rather slow the way things are progressing – although there are more Asian voices in the Australian media these days, Anglo voices and perspectives still dominate.

      That is a great campaign that you are running 🙂 Good luck with uni and post-uni. I am sure you will find your way. We all do 🙂

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