New free guide for reporting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Some great free tools for better reporting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were released this week, writes Shannan Dodson.

As part of NAIDOC week, two resources — a comprehensive introductory guide and two page checklist — for journalists are available online to support fairer, more accurate and culturally sensitive reporting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and issues.

Media Diversity Australia, in partnership with the National Congress of Australia’s First People and with the support of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have prepared this free guide. It’s designed to assist busy journalists navigate issues from appropriate terminology and visiting sacred sites, to reporting on deceased Indigenous people.

Whether intended or unconscious, those working in the media have the power to influence how Indigenous communities are perceived and understood. This resource is a guide only — hopefully it encourages journalists and their editors to consider the impact inaccurate reporting can have on already disenfranchised communities.

It is important than the media uses their position of power to report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and topics factually and respectfully. Journalists should take time to reflect on their own views, biases and opinions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and use facts and editorial judgement to challenge, rather than reinforce stereotypes.

This media aid is designed to encourage recognition and respect for Indigenous people’s images, knowledge, voices and their stories in news and current affairs media. It is by no means a reporting bible, but rather, a handy guide to assist journalists.

The most important point in this resource is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, have disparate views, perspectives and stories. They also have different opinions about appropriate language and terminology as well as cultural protocols that are worth understanding.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not one monolithic, homogenous group, so always take this into consideration when reporting. And the best piece of information to take away from this resource is that it is best to always ASK questions, rather than make assumptions.

Another thing we hope the media takes away from this is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are often left out of the dialogue on issues that affect them, so we’ve provided a handy list of organisations to contact to ensure you are reaching out to Indigenous people to comment on the topics that are about them or affect them.

The challenge of creating any type of resource is that it is never going to encompass every detail of what is needed to better report on Indigenous peoples and issues. This is an introductory resource. Those using it should be mindful not to take it as the be-all and end-all, but as a reminder to always continue learning and asking.

We understand newsrooms are fast-paced, so we hope that this resource will help as a beginning tool guide for journalists to better understand the complexities and necessity for factual and strength-based reporting for Indigenous people and communities.

Shannan Dodson is a Yawuru woman and Media Diversity Australia’s Indigenous Affairs officer. Follow Shannan on Twitter @ShannanJDodson.

Download accessible PDFs of the Reporting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Issues Handbook and quick guide here: