Sudanese Australians finding their voice through journalism
An innovative research and teaching program at the University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism (CAJ) is fostering new relationships between the media and Melbourne’s Sudanese community.
‘The Media Treatment and Communi-cation Needs of African-Australians: a Media Participation and Intervention Project (AuSud)’, grew out of a desire to find practical ways to address how the media represents Sudanese Australians.
The research project, which began in 2008 and has since developed into a 12-week training program, sees participants build relationships with mainstream media, become sources for journalists when relevant issues arise, and find their own voices by running and maintaining an online news site.
After running a pilot program in 2010, last year saw the first student cohort complete the course. This year, two 12-weekssessions will run.
Abdulkhalig Alhassan is an AuSud 2011 graduate. “In a country like Australia, media is a very important instrument to make your voice heard,” he says.
“This program gives us, as a minority group, the strength we need and a better understanding of the new home we chose to adopt.
“I found it a good opportunity to be part of something which could give our community a voice, which we desperately need.
“We have been subjected to unfair treatment by the Australian media and, honestly, I think all the Horn of Africa communities deserve such an opportunity. There is a lot of misunderstanding and stereotyping which should be addressed and confronted, but this is not going to happen if our people don’t get trained and skilled in the media realm.”
Mr Alhassan worked in the media in Sudan before migrating to Australia, which is part of the reason he chose to take part in the AuSud training course.
“It’s something that suits my ability and professional experience,” he says.
“It is not easy to shift from one language to another overnight, that’s why I ceased working in media when I came to live here. I didn’t think there was any room for me to get into journalism again, so I studied translation and interpreting instead, but now getting back into journalism, has absolutely been déjà vu.
“Now I am more confident than at any time before. I have started to learn a lot, and very fast too,” he says.
At the beginning of the project, a CAJ research team conducted a preliminary study of eight months of mainstream news coverage of Sudanese people in Australia, supported by a University of Melbourne Social Justice Initiative Grant.
Their analysis of 203 articles found that while not all coverage was negative, most stories represented Sudanese Australians in relation to violence and issues of integration.
The research team then received an ARC Linkage Grant to implement the research-based journalism training initiative for Sudanese Australians.
CAJ Senior Research Fellow and project leader Michael Gawenda said: “Our students embraced 12 weeks of media training including feature writing, editing, interviewing and ethics.
“Working with our linkage partners, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Australian Multicultural Education Service (AMES), we developed a journalism training program taught by highly respected journalists.
“The idea is to exercise a major intervention in media, to see if it is possible to make a difference to reporting about marginalised groups in society – in this case the Sudanese. We aim to help members of the Sudanese community find their own voice through journalism and develop relationships with the industry.”
Initial signs of the training program’s impact are good. One of the Sudanese participants is talking about a book contract with local publishers. AuSud Media Project graduate Emma Berberi has had articles published in The Australian, Abdulkhalig Alhassan has had an article published in the ABC religion section, and Nyadol Nyon is working as a News Operation Assistant at the ABC.
In addition to having studied journalism through the AuSud Media Project, Ms Nyon is also a law student and an aspiring writer. She was offered the job after being recommended by her AuSud mentor, Kerri Richie.
“She will be sitting on the intake desk taking calls, she’ll put news events in the diary and she’ll help put the bulletin to air. She will also be putting in story times and details. Nyadol loves it,” Ms Richie says.
Violeta Politoff is a member of the AuSud research team. “After finishing my Masters, I became involved in several journalism-related research projects. When the opportunity to be part of this journalism intervention came up, I jumped at the chance,” she says.
“I feel lucky to be working on such an innovative project.”
Ms Politoff says she is immensely proud of the project and everyone involved.
“Nevertheless, I know there’s a lot more work to do,” she says. “As well as investigating how Sudanese Australians are represented, we are also researching the project itself, seeking ultimately to provide a model for such journalism interventions.
“We hope this model will encourage similar initiatives and expand to include other marginalised communities. In addition to these goals, our project aims to establish a Melbourne-based Sudanese run news website.
“These are all big ambitions, but I think we can do it,” she says.