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Change starts with cultural awareness

By Tatiana Carter

Narelle Urquhart remembers the first time she saw a television advertisement featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It was an anti-smoking advertisement and the actors were having a cigarette in a housing commission property.

Growing up, the Wiradjuri woman felt like most of what she watched on television was unrepresentative of Indigenous Australians.

Ms Urquhart still notices a lack of media diversity in advertisements, news, and current affairs.

“Only in the last couple of years have I started noticing Aboriginal people in ads,” she said.

“A lot of the times I’ve seen Aboriginal people on the news, it just reinforces negative stereotypes.

“For me, not having Aboriginal people in the mainstream media is something that keeps unseen and unheard.”

Narelle Urquhart still notices underrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in the media. PHOTO: Cavan Flynn

A study conducted by Media Diversity Australia concluded 75% of presenters, commentators, and reporters have an Anglo-Celtic background while only 6% had an Indigenous (or non-European) background.

These statistics are all too familiar for Ms Urquhart.

She is the Manager for First Nations Cultural Engagement at Bond University, working with Indigenous students from diverse backgrounds – some of whom have pursued careers in the media.

For her, change begins with education and cultural awareness.

“I think people need to realise they’ve missed out on a rich, beautiful culture that holds a lot of knowledge about the land in which we all live,” Ms Urquhart said.

“Everything’s on Google right now so you can actually educate yourself.

“It’s not that hard to be informed.”

Cultural awareness is important for non-Indigenous journalists who may be reporting on indigenous issues.

A lot of the times I’ve seen Aboriginal people on the news, it just reinforces negative stereotypes.

Narelle Urquhart

Approaching these stories with “integrity, media ethics, and humility” is key in diversifying Australian mainstream media, Ms Urquhart says.

Ms Urquhart turns to social media to find more diversity and Indigenous-produced content.

“We get a lot of our information and what’s going on in our communities from Facebook because mainstream just won’t share the narrative,” she said.

“I often tell people to follow these pages because it shows a very different perspective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

In the end, Ms Urquhart is hopeful that cultural awareness training and education will become common in the media sector because, through this, “everybody benefits.”


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