Challenging racism in Australia
A new magazine focused on Aboriginal rights, Tracker, was launched in Sydney by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) on April 4.
The monthly publication was co-founded and launched by former National Indigenous Times editor Chris Graham. It will feature analysis and investigation of land rights, Aboriginal issues and expose the challenges of institutional racism and discrimination across Australian society.
The first issue features articles and comment by former NIT reporter and Tracker editor Amy McQuire, former ABC journalist Jeff McMullen, Larissa Behrendt, John Altman, Gary Foley, NSWALC CEO Geoff Scott, as well as letters of congratulations from new NSW premier Barry O’Farrell and independent journalist John Pilger.
Chris Graham spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Jay Fletcher about Tracker and the need for a “genuinely independent, but well-resourced voice for Aboriginal people”.
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Why was Tracker created; who helped make it happen?
The NSWALC needed to have a forum to tackle government and the media — government in the sense of underfunding and incompetence, and media in the sense of grossly misleading reporting.
And we also knew that the land council needed to start to advocate beyond its borders. Even though we are the peak body in NSW, we’re also the largest Aboriginal organisation in Australia.
It is one of only two Aboriginal organisations in Australia that have UN status, so we’re always over in the UN, New York or Geneva, advocating on issues much bigger than NSW.
We’ve spoken on the intervention, and NSWALC is consistently relied on by groups around the country for a voice internationally.
The first Tracker issues a call to revisit land rights as a pressing issue.
It is making the point that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard wanted to talk about constitution reform, but Aboriginal people want to talk about their rights, economic development, and being given back what was taken from them. They want to talk about treaty and the issues Australia doesn’t want to talk about.
Land rights are about culture and heritage and land that belong to Aboriginal people, but a large part of it too is economic development.
We created Tracker for economic development, to communicate with members, and to reach the goals of keeping media and government to account.
The other reason for Tracker is that the National Indigenous Times decided to take a different editorial tack — and in our view that left a gaping hole in rights-based journalism.
The NT intervention is into its fourth year and is expanding. More Aboriginal people are dying in custody, and racist points of view in Australia get the most media attention. How will Tracker counter the impacts of media concentration and bias?
Tracker is a rights-based magazine. It focuses on rights-based issues. Land rights is an obvious key focus. Our first major feature is about NSW and national land rights.
The other areas of course are human rights and legal rights — both of which are consistently ignored by the government — and political rights too. And the mainstream media completely ignores the right to fair coverage.
So Tracker is about promoting the rights and interests of Aboriginal people in NSW and beyond when those rights are consistently ignored. It unreservedly tells the views of Aboriginal people.
We’re calling it agenda journalism — we are openly admitting we have an agenda: the agenda is Aboriginal rights.
All media have an agenda, but the difference between us and The Australian is that we admit we have an agenda.
We’re also very focused on good quality, investigative journalism.
For example, the sub-feature in Tracker is a story about a death in custody in Canada. The story rings so many bells for people who followed the death of Mulrunji [Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004] and other deaths in custody in Australia. It’ll make you cry to read it.
They have video footage of police dragging the man out into an alleyway and leaving him exposed to the snow where he died.
They’ve been fighting to expose it for well over a decade, and still no police have faced charges.
It tells that a) police are the same the world over, and b) if you think it’s going to be a simple, easy fight, it’s not — it’s going to be a long, hard fight.
This is also what the NIT was about. Some will disagree, like The Australian and the ABC. But we exposed their dodgy reporting most of the time, so it’s no wonder they didn’t like us.
Mainstream journalism serves mainstream Australians. It’s notorious for not serving the interest of minority groups.
It’s why asylum seekers are targeted.
It’s why Aboriginal people have done so poorly. It’s why the NT intervention happened.
It’s why incarceration rates are going through the roof. In NSW, more than 80% of youth getting detained are Aboriginal. We jail black people at 5.5 times that of apartheid South Africa. And it’s just getting worse every day.
The reality is no reasonable summation of the Australian media’s history could come to the conclusion that Aboriginal people have been treated fairly.
If you want to assist Aboriginal people through the media, and that’s our goal, then we have to look at doing things differently. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome.
Other oppressed minorities, particularly the Muslim community in Australia, are rejected by large sections of Australian society for not following “our way of life” or “our values”. But the same nationalist agenda demonises and scapegoats Aboriginal people. How can solidarity and unity be built to challenge this overt racism?
The mainstream media is good at being a mirror of Australian society — so the overt racism you see in the mainstream media shouldn’t surprise anyone, because Australia is an overtly racist country — so we reflect our redneck tendencies very well in the media.
And it does not do any good. In fact it does a lot of harm. It harms people every day. Refugees have been harmed irreparably.
But no one has been harmed more and over a longer period of time than Aboriginal people. They are the great victims of media distortion and government malaise.
There’s a lot for the Muslim community to learn from the Aboriginal community about the way racism operates.
The Muslim community is the latest target. Lebanese, Sudanese, Greek migrants, Italians — apparently we have to hate somebody. And throughout all of that there have always been black fellas, who are perennially demonised.
I think it comes from a deep-seated insecurity and knowledge at some level that if we didn’t massacre Aboriginal people, we certainly benefited from it. The same goes for racism in general.
So I would suggest the Aboriginal community has a lot to offer about fighting overt and covert racism. I think there is a lot of sympathy for the way Muslims are treated, but not surprise.
We are a racist nation, there’s no two ways about it. Racism is born of ignorance and ignorance is overcome by education. But Australia’s media preserves ignorance, and it’s very hard to overcome that.
That’s why we need a new form of media, and it’s very hard to break through with wealthy and highly concentrated media ownership. And that’s why Tracker, the Koori Mail, Indigenous media generally, and Green Left Weekly are so important.
Re-educating a nation is not a bad goal, though I think we have our work cut out for us.
That’s the vision of the board [of NSWALC]. They’re aware of their capacity to reach into the homes of ordinary Australians, through the media, and that’s what they hope to achieve.
Our goal is that people should be able to pick up any edition of Tracker at any level in the Australian community and be able to understand the issues.