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Busting the ‘bamboo ceiling’

By Emily Bradfield

Antoinette Lattouf isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in, advocating for change in the Australian media landscape. The award-winning journalist boasts more than 15 years’ experience in the broadcast industry.

Among her numerous achievements, she values a Walkley nomination in her early 20s as one of the most important moments of her career.

Along with the highs, come the low points and Lattouf found challenges in her early career.

“I do also think that there is unconscious bias towards the perceived limitations of ethnic journalists,” she says.

“I think there’s a bit of a ‘bamboo ceiling’ or a ‘brown ceiling’ for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to really be in positions of power, or senior leadership positions in media organisations.

“There just haven’t been many examples of women, also culturally diverse women, who hold positions of authority.”

From a young age, Lattouf recognised a divide in the stories that were being told and the people who were telling those stories.

In fact, it was the motivating force that drove her to become a journalist.

“I got really frustrated with what I felt was unfair or unrepresentative coverage and I wanted an opportunity to help tell different stories from the inside rather than the outside,” she says.

Lattouf turns her frustration into progress in her role as co-founder and director of Media Diversity Australia.

Run by working journalists, the non-profit organisation aims to create a news media reflective of all Australia.

Through research, networking events, mentoring programs and collaborating with media outlets, they are making the first steps for change.

The organisation’s research has found a retention problem among journalists with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

“We’re finding that even though more and more media outlets are getting interns and cadets that are diverse or entry-level journos in the organisation, what we’re not seeing is them staying and going on to have fruitful careers,” Lattouf says.

“That’s what we’re currently looking at and trying to find solutions to.”

Lattouf believes it is important to have a media that reflects all Australians, not just in appearance but also in opinions.

“We often fear and are divided about what we don’t know,” she says. “I think the media has an important role in bridging that divide, in giving that information, in giving a face, a name and a story that’s beyond a divisive headline.”

Lattouf recalls being a teenager when the September 11 attacks occurred and being outraged by the public response.

“I remember at that time feeling really frustrated at the media but also feeling a little bit ashamed of my cultural heritage because I felt it was so badly perceived or understood,” she says.

“All these opinions about what my community should or shouldn’t do, what it means to be a migrant or what it means to be an Arab and what was so frustrating was that it was often an all-white panel.

“What was missing was the voices from the community, what was missing was journalists from a range of backgrounds.”

Lattouf believes the way to overcome misrepresentations in the news is a more inclusive and diverse media landscape.

“I think representative media could challenge that. It’s not going to change it but it could challenge it. It could add different perspectives and voices and give a more rounded and balanced view. it would better serve our democracy,” she says.

Lattouf believes media coverage of the challenges indigenous communities continue to face, the reporting of ‘Sudanese gangs’ and even Chinese influence on the local property market is very limited.

“There’s endless debate talk about African-Australian youth and plenty of headlines and panel discussions about the Chinese snapping up all of our property, or even Indigenous children — but take a look at who gets to comment and report on these communities — almost always Anglo,” she says.

“How much better would coverage be with diverse staff who bring language skills, their contacts and a different perspective?”


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