The way forward in New Zealand’s media coverage of Asia

There is an opportunity for ethnic-minority media in New Zealand to “bridge the gap” in the supply of news on Asia-related issues, writes Sandeep Singh.

The increasing need for New Zealanders to understand Asia-related issues presents an opportunity for mainstream and ethnic-minority media to collaborate on Asia coverage, writes Indian Weekender editor Sandeep Singh.

OPINION: The relationship between mainstream and ethnic-minority media anywhere around the world come with their own set of challenges.

Because ethnic-minority media provide news and entertainment to their target audiences, and usually use mother-tongue languages, the relationship between ethnic-minority and mainstream media can be problematic.

Ethnic-minority media organisations exist for a variety of reasons, for instance: to combat negative profiling of their respective communities in the mainstream media; to preserve and celebrate cultural identities; and to help new immigrants with respectful integration into their adopted homeland.

Often, ethnic-minority media’s “sense of guardianship” of their respective communities is misunderstood by mainstream journalists. Mainstream journalists can view the editorial capabilities of ethnic-minority media – and even editorial integrity – with distrust and disrespect.

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Sandeep Singh talking with fellow journalists and Asia experts at the Asia Media Centre's Setting the Scene for 2018 event.

There are interpersonal barriers as well. Journalists in mainstream and ethnic-minority media are generally not in the same social networks and don’t typically attend the same conferences.

In New Zealand, more favourable circumstances exist for nuanced editorial cooperation between ethnic-minority and mainstream media than what has prevailed historically in the countries of North America and Europe.

Despite the history of immigration in New Zealand, most of the ethnic-minority media organisations have relatively short histories. Secondly, New Zealand itself is going through both a change in its demography and its outward “geopolitical orientation”.

Currently, there are gaps in the mainstream media’s coverage of issues related to Asia. This gap is evident in both the coverage of issues relevant to New Zealand’s growing Asian communities and in coverage of news related to Asia outside New Zealand.

A key cause is that the New Zealand mainstream media operates with a “Eurocentric” worldview. News is produced and disseminated from a self-visualisation of New Zealand as a European nation.

“Demographic changes have brought in a large number of people who would not normally consume the news and entertainment provided by mainstream media.

However, following immigration reforms – particularly the Immigration Act of 1987 – the subsequent influx of Asian immigrants has seen a significant change in New Zealand’s demography.

According to the 2013 Census, about 12 per cent of the total population identified as being of Asian ethnicity. Many predict that proportion will have increased since 2013.

This has obviously created a huge demand for ethnic-minority media content in an increasingly multicultural New Zealand.

Added to this, New Zealand’s “geopolitical orientation” has also started to change in the last couple of decades. Amid a growing realisation of belonging to “Asia-Pacific”, the idea of belonging to Asia has also started to emerge, even if that idea is still in its infancy.

The coverage of Asia-related issues presents a specific opportunity for collaboration between ethnic-minority and mainstream media. The demand and the need for understanding and covering Asia-related issues are increasing day by day in New Zealand.

While mainstream media newsrooms continue to suffer the challenge of diversifying their newsrooms, and lack fully operational bureaus or connections on the ground in Asia, there is an opportunity for the New Zealand ethnic media to “bridge the gap” in the supply of news on Asia-related issues.

“There is huge room to develop tools for collaborative journalism – not only in terms of reporting, but also in analyses of issues related to Asia.”

There is already growing evidence of some collaboration between mainstream and ethnic media players, especially in the Chinese and Indian media segments.

However, it does not pass muster in providing ample coverage of Asia-related issues, or in breaking down interpersonal barriers between mainstream and ethnic-minority media journalists.

For any meaningful collaboration between mainstream and ethnic media to succeed, the interpersonal barriers between those at the forefront of coverage and analysis of Asia-related issues should be broken.

In this regard, the Asia Media Centre had recently hosted an event – Setting the Scene for 2018 – which brought together journalists from mainstream and ethnic media together, along with other experts on Asia.

This was a welcome initiative, facilitating direct interactions between ethnic and mainstream media journalists. It is highly desirable to facilitate more social interactions to break the wall of contempt and distrust that normally defines the relationship between the mainstream and ethnic journalists.

The future of collaborative journalism between mainstream and ethnic-minority media is in its infancy.

However, experiences from overseas suggest there is huge room to develop tools for collaborative journalism – not only in terms of reporting, but also in analyses of issues related to Asia.

For our part, The Indian Weekender, which is the Indian community’s largest English-language media outlet in New Zealand, can state with confidence that it is ready to develop and implement collaborative tools for the coverage of Asia-related issues.

Sandeep Singh was one of the panellists at the Asia Media Centre’s event Setting the Scene for 2018. Views expressed are personal to the author. 

– Asia Media Centre