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Reporting on asylum seekers and refugees is a difficult task, yet extremely rewarding and an important exercise in journalism.  Every asylum seeker and refugee has a moving story to tell.  At times they can be heart warming tales of triumph, but more often than not it is a tale of unimaginable struggle and despair.  In this blog, I will reflect on a recent project in which I produced with a partner a radio feature on a Burmese refugee living in Canberra.  This blog will address my experiences in producing the story.  I will also examine the media’s role in reporting on asylum seeker and refugee issues and thirdly, I will address what I have learned not only from producing the story, but also from examining the ethical issues of reporting on asylum seekers and refugees.



What contact had you had with asylum seekers/refugees prior to commencing this project?


Before starting this project, I had had quite a lot of contact with refugees.  My mother and her family were immigrants from Norway who came to Australia in the 1960s to seek a better life.  Today, they could very well be classified as economic refugees.  My father is from Zimbabwe and is an active member in Canberra’s African community.  Growing up, I have regularly interacted with Southern Africans and other members of the African community in Canberra who are refugees who fled from their home countries for a variety of reasons, including economic, political and safety reasons.  My personal relationships meant that my involvement in Canberra’s refugee community was already substantial prior to this project, however I had never interacted with the community in the way that this project provided.

What was your attitude to refugees/asylum seekers and policies pertaining to their management prior to commencing work on this project?

Having grown up with many friends who are refugees, I have always seen asylum seekers and refugees as people who are simply searching for a chance to live a better  life that is free from persecution and fear.  No one chooses where they are born, and if there is a chance to better someone’s life, then it is every human beings moral duty to try and make that happen.  In fact, under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal declaration of human rightsEveryone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. (  This is why it frustrates me when I see things such as that “Australia stands alone in mandating the detention of all individuals entering the country without valid visas irrespective of whether or not they are seeking asylum. About 3500 asylum seekers, including 450 children, were held in detention in that country as of June, 2000.”Detention of asylum seek ers: assault on health,human rights, and social development. (Silove, Steel, Mollica, 2001)



What did you learn about asylum seeker/refugees during the course of the project?


Coming in to this project, I believed that I had an in depth knowledge of the global asylum seeker/refugee situation and the Australian Government’s policy position, due to having a keen interest in politics and the media.  However, working on this project has helped to consolidate my pre-existing thoughts about certain aspects of asylum seeker and refugee issues and provided the opportunity to analyse these issues from different viewpoints.  For instance, information I have picked up during the course of the project such as the fact that “Australia is involved in the practice of warehousing asylum seekers (including children and babies) in Indonesia, and that taxpayers’ money is being used to facilitate this practice, (Taylor, 2009) have further reinforced my views on Australia’s asylum seeker policies.  I value the progress I have made in developing my personal views and the opportunities provided to study various sources and case studies.

I have discovered that, to my surprise, there are many organisations in Canberra doing a great deal of meaningful work for resettled refugees in the region and that these organisations do not get the recognition they deserve.  Despite having met many refugees during my life in Canberra, I had never heard of the organisation that me and my partner were paired with, Canberra Refugee Support (CRS).   The role of CRS is to act as a conduit between resettled refugees and education and training facilities through a scholarship program, as well as to assist refugees to settle in to the community. Learning about such organisations has added greater depth to my understanding of life after being deemed a refugee by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

What (if any) impact has the project had on your views of asylum seekers/refugees and associated policy issues?


The lessons learned during this project have not changed, but reinforced my existing views of asylum seekers and refugees.  I maintain my frustration with the Australian Government’s current policy position (as outlined above).



What has the project taught you about reporting refugee/asylum seeker issues?


This project has highlighted the need to maintain objectivity when reporting on refugee and asylum seeker issues, not allowing personal opinions on the issue to cloud one’s judgement on a story.  As a sympathiser of asylum seekers and refugees, I found my personal views allowed me to engage on a personal level with the refugee we interviewed, but I also recognised when I was required to stand back and take an non-bias view of the story.  It has also taught me that no matter how unfortunate the story may be, the story still needs to be told.  There were a few things the talent told us that she explicitly asked to be left off the record and they were quite hard to listen to.  Even leaving those out of the story, the story was still quite a difficult story that saw the talent go through a lot of hardships before she was approved refugee status and transferred to Australia.

This project has, for me, highlighted the need for public journalism projects.  The purpose of public journalism is summed up perfectly in that “in order for citizenship to be a vital social force in any democratic society, citizens should be able to (learn to) identify themselves with the moral and political principles of modern democracy.  Media are considered crucial in this respect.”  (Meijer, 2001)

Audio gremlins were a problem in the field.  The recorder we used was an M-Audio recorder, but unfortunately one of the talent was a very low talker and the mic had to be kept far enough away as to not be obtrusive and as a result the audio came out extremely low.

How will you put these lessons into practice when you are next assigned such a story?


As for the audio problems mentioned above, I have since learned that there is such a thing as a Lapel Mic for the M-Audio recorder.  This would have been a lifesaver to ensure clean audio grabs and it is definitely a lesson learned for the future.

We had two talents cancel on us in the beginning.  Whilst this was unavoidable, I learned that one must always have a back up plan, and not rely on one source of information.

This project was designed for partners/groups.  One challenge I found was scheduling time to work on the story and equally dividing the workload.  This experience has allowed me to develop better time management skills and has made me more comfortable and competent to work as a member of a team.  I also feel that this project allowed me to develop greater leadership skills, a role that I feel I can now assume more confidently.


Overall, I am grateful to have been provided with the opportunity to complete a project on the asylum seeker/refugee issue, an issue which I am undoubtedly going to encounter in my future journalistic career.  The experiences and lessons provided by this project, including interacting with the Canberran refugee community and the opportunity to work in a team to produce a newsworthy story for ABC, have assisted in my personal and professional development as a journalist.  I have also realised that “it becomes apparent that media reporting can shape public perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers and has the potential to influence policy”, (Mares, 2002) and I’m hoping that more journalists realise this and work for the better. (accessed 24/11/11)

Silove, D., Steel, Z., Mollica, R.F., 2001, The Lancet, Volume 357, Issue 9266, pp. 1436 – 1437

Taylor, J., 2009, Behind Australian Doors: Examining the Conditions of Detention of Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, Asylum Seekers in Indonesia: Project, Findings & Recommendations.


Meijer, I.C., 2001, The Public Quality of Popular Journalism: developing a normative framework, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Journalism Studies,  pp. 189–205

Mares, P., 2002, Reporting Australia’s Asylum Seeker “Crisis”,  pp. 1-6


Multimedia Presentation

And here is the multimedia presentation!  Very happy with the final result and I think it really highlights some amazing work and what a wonderful person Stasia is

The Twitter Revolution

In 1605, Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien was the first newspaper ever published and since then journalism and news has seen many radical advancements, in the methods of how it is disseminated to the public, the speed in which it is done, and the inherent pitfalls that come with these advancements.

The spread of the printing press through Europe during the 17th century is “seen as the reason for the rapid spread of the Newspaper” (Weber, 2006)   During the 19th century, the First Industrial Revolution produced advances in printing technology that enabled newspapers to become an even more widely circulated means of communication. For example, In 1814 The London Times acquired a printing press “capable of making 1,100 impressions per minute which was soon adapted to be able to print on both sides of the paper.”  (Meggs, 1998)  Another development of the First Industrial Revolution was the the invention of the Steam engine, which allowed Newspapers to be carried great distances, increasing the range, speed and scope of Newspapers.

The Second Industrial Revolution saw the invention of the Radio, with the first radio news program being broadcast on August 31, 1920 in Detroit, Michigan.  This development again saw an increase in the speed of news dissemination, as information could be delivered to the radio station over phone networks and broadcast within hours or even minutes.

Then there was the first television news broadcast on May 10th, 1928 when Kolin Hager read news and weather reports in front of a microphone at WGY in Schenectady, New York.  This was soon followed by live pictures beamed into peoples living rooms, and small amounts of news were disseminated instantly.

In the last few years however, there has been a revolution in the news stream that has become the most radical of all.  Twitter emerged in 2008 and through its ease of use, quickly became a “breakthrough social media tool for journalists.  It became a pipeline for breaking news for both professional reporters and citizen journalists, with the massacre in Mumbai, the Hudson River plane crash and Obama’s inauguration highlighting its effectiveness as a source of live, user-generated online content.”  (  In the present day, Twitter has essentially provided an enormous forum for journalists to link with their peers and break news instantaneously.  The sheer volume of information posted through Twitter is incredible.  Forbes Technology writer Oliver Chiangrecently commented that “Twitter has reached nearly 200 million registered accounts who post 110 million tweets per day.”   (  In addition, according to ABC Australia Managing Director Mark Scott, of those 110 million tweets per day “25 per cent of all Tweets contain links.”  (  Now those links could be sharing anything; letting another user know there is a live update of Question Time in the Australian Parliament,  an article concerning the effects of globalisation on the Ifugao peoples of the Northern Phillipines, philosophical debates over the morality of torture or… that there is a talking dog on youtube.  But the fact is that an enormous amount of users are sharing an even larger amount of information with each other, and it is conducted in real time.

My own forays into Twitter only began a matter of months ago as a result of necessity.  It was a requirement of my studies that I join Twitter and establish an online presence.  You see , until very recently, I was of the thought that Twitter was for people who wanted to tweet that their “incredible ANZAC cookie recipe worked“, or that their “walk around the lake was awzomeeeee“, or that they “had to take their cat to the vet because of a giant furball.”  Perhaps I can excuse my naivety on Twitter, as these examples of social media taken from some Facebook status updates portray a valid reason to suspect Twitter of being much the same.  However, while there are still the inane updates such as the the ones above, it is easy to streamline your Twitter feed into showing you the sorts of Tweets you want to be reading.  For example, most, if not all, the users I am following on Twitter are journalists of some sort or another.  I can group these users into “lists”, that separate the feeds I am getting from them into easily digestible groupings of different categories.  For example, I have a list with all the sports journos I am following, a list with all the political journos I am following, and so on.  This is a great feature as I can move between these lists to get my fill of whatever field I feel like digesting.   Mark Scott sums it up pretty well:  “It means if you want to read something from The New York Times or The Independent or Le Monde, you can go straight to the source. You are no longer dependent on the handful of Australia’s newspaper executives who decided what would be available to you in your Australian newspaper, the stories they wanted to publish in their own papers. You just go there directly – and find things that interest you, save, share, Tweet and link to them.”  (

I have alluded to the fact that a lot of this sharing of information is done in real time and there could be no better example of this than during the alleged killing of Osama Bin Laden, a little over a week ago.

Sohaib Athar, who describes himself as a 33-year-old programmer and consultant “taking a break from the rat race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops,” happened to be staying up late at the time last week when he began tweeting about some odd sounds he was hearing.

“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” 5:58 AM May 2nd

“Go away helicopter – before I take out my giant swatter :-/” 6:05 AM May 2nd

“The abbottabad helicopter/UFO was shot down near the Bilal Town area, and there’s report of a flash. People saying it could be a drone.”  7:10 AM May 2nd

Without knowing it, Athar had begun tweeting about the attack on the compound.  This was instantaneous reporting of one of the biggest news items in the last decade, and it was largely due to the simplicity and ease of use of Twitter.  As Mitch Joel of the Montreal Gazette describes “If Sohaib Athar had to open his word processing software, write up a paragraph about helicopters buzzing overhead, then upload that copy to his blog, he probably would not have bothered. If he had to find a video camera, shoot the event, give some commentary, transfer it to his computer and upload it to You-Tube, he probably would not have bothered.”  (

Another example of the instantaneous sharing of information is the “breaking” of the Bin Laden news.

The time was roughly 1pm when a tweet popped up in my feed.  “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”  This was posted by Keith Urbahn, who is the Chief of Staff for Donald Rumsfeld.  Now the really interesting thing is I did not receive the tweet directly from Urbahn himself, rather it was retweeted to me by a journalist who had been following Urbahn.  It was tweeted to me 2 minutes after the original statement from Urbahn.  No other network, print or broadcast had broken this story yet.

The really interesting thing is that Urbahn is now being credited for breaking the story when in fact he was not the first to speculate on the reasons for an emergency presidential television appearance by Barrack Obama.  Between the first speculative tweet and President Obama’s address to the nation, about 15 million tweets had been exchanged between users.  A startup called SocialFlow analysed the twitter conversations about Bin Laden and says that what really broke the news about Osama Bin Laden was that “By publicly engaging with each other on Twitter, users could jointly build out and break hypotheses, piecing together all known facts, until what’s believed to be a believable “truth” emerges. Many people were trying to figure out the puzzle together.”  (

(a visualization of the network graph showing the spread of Keith Urbahn’s single  speculative tweet across users on Twitter)

However, this also highlights one of the greatest pitfalls of twitter.  After the post by Urbahn, many US networks began reporting the alleged death of Bin Laden.  Although it was to be correct, in a medium where rumour can be construed as fact if enough people say it, and so many are keen to have the breaking news without bothering to verify, this could have dire consequences for the journalism industry.

Weber, Johannes (2006), “Strassburg, 1605: The Origins of the Newspaper in Europe”, German History 24 (3): 387–412 (387)

Philip B. Meggs, A History of Graphic Design (1998) pp 130–133

The Hanson affair

(Originally published 09/09/2010)

On 15 March 2009, The Sunday Telegraph ran a series of salacious photographs the newspaper claimed were of the former One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson when she was a teenager.  In a matter of days, the story and photographs were exposed as false, shaming and embarrassing The Sunday Telegraph to the point where the editor, Neil Breen, published an apology to Ms Hanson a week later.   Key issues that arose from this controversy include whether The Sunday Telegraph verified the validity of their sources, whether the paper broke any privacy laws with the publication of this story, and how the ethics concerned with the publication of such a story relate to public interest.  Also brought into question is how one of the largest-selling newspapers in the country could be so easily fooled by a hoax.

The photographs in question were released by a man named Jack Johnson, who claimed he was romantically involved with Ms Hanson in the 1970s.  Johnson claimed he and a friend were digitising old photos when the two came across the photographs and decided to sell them to the paper.  The Sunday Telegraph ran the photographs as front page news, with two of them dominating three quarters of the entire front page.  It is evident that The Sunday Telegraph believed they had substantial proof that the woman in the photographs was indeed Ms Hanson and were not afraid to dive in to the story.  It was later revealed that Johnson had convinced the paper to believe this.  There were a number of claims from the source that The Sunday Telegraph neglected to verify, including that the photographs had been taken at the Pelican Bay Resort between 1975 and 1977.  It was later revealed that “the Coffs Harbour Pelican Beach Resort did not open until 1986” (The Daily Telegraph, 16 March 2009).  Not only did the paper get the name of the location at which these photographs were claimed to have been taken wrong, but they also neglected to investigate whether the resort in question had even existed.  The Sunday Telegraph reported that Johnson was “a former army commando”, who “spent 18 years in the army” (The Sunday Telegraph, 15 March 2009).  However, in the days following the story’s publication, The Herald Sun, another News Ltd. paper that printed the same story, reported that “no army representative contacted has any knowledge or recollection of Johnson” (The Herald Sun, 22 March 2009).  It is clear that The Sunday Telegraph did not research the facts of the story thoroughly enough before publication, or consider the potential ramifications for all parties involved.  Such obvious falsifications had been overlooked.  With little investigation, the aforementioned falsifications would have raised concern to the journalist and the editor involved, possibly concern enough to not run the story as hastily as it was. The Sunday Telegraph took Jack Johnson on his word, which as far as professional practice issues go, was a mistake.

By publishing these photographs and the corresponding story, was The Sunday Telegraph employing a good sense of journalistic principle, ethics and responsibility?  The Australian Press Council says “In gathering news, journalists should seek personal information only in the public interest. In doing so, journalists should not unduly intrude on the privacy of individuals and should show respect for the dignity and sensitivity of people…”.  (APC) The photographs published were, at the time, thought to be of Pauline Hanson.  However, the photographs, had they been real, would have been taken when Hanson was approximately 19 years old.  The photographs were of a young girl, taken in a private indoor setting.  If one considers the view of the APC, this was a gross invasion of Ms Hanson’s privacy.  It appears that the journalist and the editor did not take in to account the effect the photographs and story would have on Ms Hanson’s dignity and image, as there would have been far more consideration as to whether the story should have been published at all.  Not only did The Sunday Telegraph break one of the APC’s Statement of Principles, but it also broke one of the Media Alliance’s Code of Ethics:  “Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate” (Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance).  The fact that The Sunday Telegraph broke two standards of the bodies that give guidance and instruction on the application of media responsibilities indicates that there was a serious lack of judgement towards applying good journalistic principles, ethics and responsibility in the coverage of this story.

The Sunday Telegraph took a pre-emptive strike that readers would see the publication as an intrusion of privacy.  Robyn Riley, a columnist for the paper, wrote on the day the story broke “Public people are public property whether they like it or not… her ideals, opinions, behaviour and beliefs must be scrutinised”. (The Sunday Telegraph, March 15)  Riley’s view was that once someone is in the public eye, they forfeit any rights to privacy once had as an ordinary citizen.  Obviously The Sunday Telegraph also shared this same view on the matter.  However, in an APC Statement of Principles:  “public figures do not forfeit their right to privacy altogether. Intrusion into their right to privacy must be related to their public duties or activities.” (APC) In this instance, The Sunday Telegraph cannot defend their intrusion into Ms Hanson’s privacy on the grounds that the intrusion was in relation to the public duties or activities of Ms Hanson.  As previously mentioned, at the time the photos were taken Ms Hanson would have been 19 years old.  However, Ms Hanson did not become a politician until 1994, aged 40.  The fact that Ms Hanson did not start her public duties or activities for a further 21 years after the photographs were alleged to have been taken means that these photographs, in the view of the APC, were not of public interest.  However, even if the photographs were taken while she was in the public eye as a politician, they would still not be in the public interest.  In addition, from a perspective of Australian privacy law, the photographs in question were taken during a private activity.  A private activity is deemed such when “Parties should reasonably assume that it will be observed only by themselves” (Australian Surveillance Legislation).  Therefore, by publishing the photographs, The Sunday Telegraph breached this legislation, and published a private activity which may find them in trouble with the law should Ms Hanson choose to sue for defamation.

After examining the Sunday Telegraphs coverage of the Pauline Hanson photographs, it is evident that the paper neglected in its journalistic responsibilities.  Responsibilites such as verifying sources, maintaining journalistic principle and ethics and keeping in line with the law are all essential ingredients in producing credible and responsible journalism.  In keeping with these responsibilities, the Sunday Telegraph failed and so inevitably ended up in the problem it is in now.

Budget blow out blues

Budget blow out blues

Originally published 30/04/10

An independent investigation instigated by the ACT Greens into the Cotter Dam expansion has revealed yesterday that the project had risen hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

The Cotter Dam Enlargement Project involves the building of a new dam downstream from the existing Cotter Dam with the intention of increasing the Cotter reservoir’s capacity.  Current capacity sits at four Gigalitres, while the projected capacity after completion will be 78 Gigalitres, almost 20 times its size.

In 2007, ACTEW Corporation told the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission that they estimated the projected total for the Cotter Dam enlargement would be $145 million.  This was accepted by the commission on the proviso that final costs could be up to 30 percent higher.  However, an investigation into the project’s budget by the ICRC has revealed that the projected cost had risen to $363 million.  The report also questions whether a revised cost-benefit assessment was completed by ACTEW in regards to other options it could have taken.  Also included in the report are concerns whether an assessment was ever carried out by the ACT Government, as was required.

ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury says that the ICRC report has concluded that the project is not in the best interests of Canberrans, due to the inflated costs.

“The ICRC investigated the projected construction totals after a Greens dispute over costs.  The commission has asked ACTEW if the infrastructure is correct and has found that the ACTEW bid did not investigate if this project was the best option forCanberra, in terms of the construction costs.”

Mr Rattenbury says that the investigation may have had a completely different result if the Greens had not voiced their concerns.

“The ACT Greens asked for an independent investigation, someone who was not tied to the Government and now that Commission has advised the Government that it is not the best option forCanberra.  This may not have happened if the ACT Greens had not gotten their way.”

These revelations come just days after ACTEW Project Manager Ray Hazkiel spoke at a ‘Friends of the Cotter’ meeting in Weston about the commencement of construction on the dam.

“Production costs have remained quite stable and blasting is now under way.  We have setup a rock crusher on site that will provide the materials for the one million tonnes of concrete that will be required.” Mr Hazkiel said.

The ACT Labor party failed to respond to calls.

ACTEW has more community meetings planned in the coming weeks.

ACT Greens say no to Gungahlin Sequel

ACT Greens say no to Gungahlin sequel

(Originally published 09/03/2010)

The ACT Greens have warned that the new Molonglo suburbs could end up an environmental and infrastructure failure, likening it to the problems faced by Gungahlin.

At a public forum hosted by the ACT Greens at the Legislative Assembly yesterday the Greens launched an eleven point proposal for the development of the new suburb.  The key issues in the ACT Greens’ proposal are that Molonglo should provide adequate and immediate business opportunities within the community, whilst maintaining sound environmental practices, citing Gungahlin as a suburb which has failed at both.

Professor Tony Capon, ANU Professor in Epidemiology and Population Health, was a guest speaker at the forum, and when asked about how important infrastructure would be in Molonglo, he voiced his concerns about the new suburb.

“The risk is that Molonglo may become another set of dormitory suburbs without a diverse range of jobs,’ Professor Capon said, ‘I think that the critical point is that any new development should aspire to provide adequate jobs…we don’t want another Gungahlin on our hands.”

The second key issue in the Greens’ proposal is to lower water usage in all households of Molonglo.  The proposal outlined several methods of reducing water consumption the Greens would like to implement.  It included a plan to install a minimum four star water rating for water fittings and appliances, the inclusion of smart meters to measure water consumption and patterns, and the use of bio filtration systems.

Ian Lawrence, an environmental engineer at theUniversityofCanberra, was the second guest speaker of the night and spoke of the potential of using bio filtration systems in Molonglo.

“The bio-filtration system, just like the one in Victoria Park, is an excellent way to filter water,’ Mr Lawrence said, ‘It is a fantastic opportunity to recapture the Molonglo river and it’s creeks and lower total water consumption.”

Bio filtration systems have been used successfully in cities around the world, includingSydney, in itsVictoriapark facility.

The Greens have announced more public forums on their proposal in the weeks to come.

ABJ 2 2nd Assessment

For the second assessment for Advanced Broadcast Journalism, we had to write, film, produce and edit a TV news story of 100 seconds long for the student journalism website NowUC.  The story had to contain three or more interview grabs (one each from different talent), some illustrative overlay shot that was edited by ourselves, a linking script and a piece-to-camera (PTC).

The story I chose to cover was a motion that was moved by ACT Labor MLA John Hargreaves.  He proposed that there should be a National Concession Card for Students, as the current State based systems are “discriminatory”.  The motion produced an extremely rare showing of tripartisan support in the Legislative Assembly, with the ACT Liberal and ACT Greens supporting the move.

Since I grew up in NSW and spent the first 6 months of University travelling between NSW and ACT to attend school, I understand the many disadvantages of the current system.  If I were to try to use my NSW Concession Card in the ACT, for example to board a bus, it would not be valid and I would become a full fare paying customer.  So I believe it is very welcome news for students around the country that a system that is supposedly meant to be aiding students, will actually do that without discriminating over the fact of where you study.

I decided it would be best to speak to the major players involved and lined up interviews with John Hargreaves ACT Labor MLA, Shane Rattenbury ACT Greens MLA and lined up an interview with a National Union for Students Association (NUSA) member, as I had heard that they were supporting the moves.  Jason Paris was to be the NUSA talent.

I used a Panasonic P2 camera which really are a great camera to use with simple features.

I am happy with the final result which can be seen here