Eric Chuah and Gaurav Sharma are the founders of the Multicultural Times, a newly-launched newspaper that aims to highlight the stories of multicultural New Zealand.
Chuah, a banker, has worked in cities in Australia, Asia and New Zealand. He left his role as head of migrant banking at ANZ in 2017, to set up the Auckland-based research and consultancy company Cultural Connections. His business partner, Gaurav Sharma, worked as a journalist in India and in Singapore before moving to Christchurch in 2014.
“Ethnic issues, news, views, struggles, successes, or celebrations, don’t find adequate representation in the country’s public discourse,” say the team, who have given the newspaper the tagline “journalism for diversity”. They hope the initiative will boost social cohesion by allowing society at large to “develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s culture”.
The first edition of the fortnightly paper was distributed at libraries, community groups and shops across New Zealand on 1 August.
The Asia Media Centre talked to the founders about their decision to set up a journalism initiative to give a voice to diverse communities in New Zealand.
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Tell us a bit about yourselves. What do you want to achieve with the Multicultural Times?
Gaurav Sharma: I came to New Zealand in late 2014. I was in Singapore for a few years and moved to Christchurch. My wife does research work with the government. They called her, and I followed her here.
In Christchurch, my first gig was reporting for the Indian Weekender. There are lots of stories about the Indian community south of the Bombay Hills. The drawback to the gig was I could only write about the Indian community. As the Census tells us, there are more than 200 cultural groups living in New Zealand. But where are their voices? So on the sidelines I started looking for collaborations.
Migrant Times was a newspaper I started in collaboration with the Canterbury Migrant Centre in mid-2016. The centre closed last year because of some funding issues. In the one year of our publication, we covered more than 55 ethnic communities – the Iranian community, Zimbabwean, Nigerians, West Africans.
One of the stories we covered was an annual awards event organised by the Canterbury West African Association. As a journalist, it was a very routine story – a picture and two paragraphs. But after it was published, the president came to my office and hugged me and invited me to be an honorary member. He said: ‘This is the first time someone has acknowledged our existence in Canterbury.’
If you are talking to me, you are acknowledging I exist. If you just pass by, it’s as if I am invisible. That was how they felt in two, three decades in Canterbury.
A barometer of success is if people come to us and tell us that because of the Multicultural Times, we are not invisible anymore. Then I think we’ll have started making a difference.
“Articles about migrants and multicultural communities tend to have a very negative narrative.”
Eric Chuah: The problem with the mainstream media is it is so profit-driven. When you’re profit-driven, you are publishing news that gets eyeballs and clicks. And what gets eyeballs and clicks? Sensationalised, negative news.
Articles about migrants and multicultural communities tend to have a very negative narrative. This is why we are doing Multicultural Times – to balance the narratives about migrants and multicultural communities.
Multicultural Times hits a sweet spot in the market in that it fulfils a gap that’s not being met by anyone.
MBIE did research on Kiwi perceptions of migrants [in 2016]. They asked how Kiwis think about migrants of different nationalities. Two of the largest sources of migrants, India and China, scored the lowest, at 5.4 for China and 5.5 for India.
A Kiwi is not going to pick up the Chinese Herald, because they can’t read Chinese. They are unlikely to read Indian Newslink or Indian Weekender because they are ethnic-specific. We think the Multicultural Times will be the definitive guide to everything about multicultural communities and migrants in New Zealand.
Having said that, we aren’t going to publish a wholly airy-fairy, fluffy, positive picture of migrants. We are going to take a balanced approach. We’re going to find ways to balance out negative narratives in the mainstream media.
Why a newspaper at a time when digital news is overtaking print media?
Eric Chuah: A lot of people think print is a sunset industry, but I’d say that’s a wrong perception.
If you look at the past few years, the rise of fake news has been very visible. Many people feel online news is questionable, unreliable. When you are faced with a lack of trust and credibility of online news, that’s when print media starts to make a comeback.
But, of course, everything we print is also available online. And since this is a fortnightly newspaper, there will be times our website will be updated with more recent news as they develop.
Gaurav Sharma: Three to four years ago, people were saying Facebook was going to finish everything. Just the other day, they lost 100 billion dollars. In the last few years, all the online subscriptions for the WSJ, NYT, Economist – the credible organisations – have been rising. Nobody is collapsing. Of course, they have needed to change their processes [for the digital era].
This is not only about Facebook. In India, people commonly use WhatsApp. The news industry had thought WhatsApp was going to take over. But now because of the spread of fake news, there’s a big cutdown on WhatsApp in India. We have seen a return to credible journalism – and this new initiative will be a testament to that.
What sorts of topics can readers expect to find in the Multicultural Times?
Eric Chuah: A particular topic I’m very passionate about is cultural diversity and inclusion. At the moment, there’s a lot of discussion in New Zealand about how we can ensure we have a culturally-diverse workplace that is also inclusive. The Minister for Ethnic Communities, Jenny Salesa, has also spoken about how we can get more ethnically-diverse representation in the government and public sector.
So there’s lot of momentum on this topic – but how is this being translated in New Zealand to educate Kiwis about the tips, frameworks and guidance to ensure your workplace is culturally diverse and inclusive?
One of the sections we will be publishing – and is the reason why we have established an advisory board, which includes Carol Brown, CEO of cultural diversity consultancy Diversitas – will feature success stories of how small and large Kiwi companies are implementing their diversity policies, to ensure that culturally-diverse employees feel included.
Do you have a sense of the type of topics your audiences in different parts of New Zealand are interested in?
Gaurav Sharma: In general, New Zealand media is very provincial. This is something we seek to challenge. There’s The Press in Christchurch, Dominion Post in Wellington, NZ Herald for Auckland. Even public opinion is divided. If you go to Wellington and Christchurch, you’ll not find that kind of migrant-worker bashing. This immigration thing is very Auckland-centric. If you go out of Auckland, people tend to want migrants and international students.
For our first issue, the Multicultural Times will be going to 15 cities – the three big cities and 12 more. By the end of 2018, we aim to reach around 33 cities – three big cities, 15 small towns like Hamilton and Tauranga, and 15 in the South Island. So in Auckland, when we distribute to 200-250 locations, people will read stuff from places like Invercargill as well.
Will you be looking to include non-English content from contributors in the future?
Eric Chuah: We are conscious of isolating others. If we publish something in Chinese, are we potentially going head to head with Chinese media? The way we are positioning ourselves is that we are collaborators with ethnic media, not their competitors. They will continue to report things that are ethnic-specific, and we will cover all things multicultural.
We have a very good relationship with ethnic media and we intend to share resources and find ways to collaborate to find a common good to make New Zealand better for everyone.
– Asia Media Centre