Star Weekly journalist Benjamin Millar

Benjamin Millar. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Millar.
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“I was frustrated and worried about what was happening … It was just a mini vent.” Benjamin Millar, Journalist at the Star Weekly, talks to Breanna Harris about the Twitter thread which changed how the media were reporting on African Australian communities.

How did you start your career as a Journalist?

I actually started off in music writing. I was up in Wollongong working in the local street press there and just writing some things for them. So not so much journalism per se, but music writing. It just sorted followed on from there. I started doing more for the uni paper, once I was at uni, so broadening out beyond just music, doing more about the local area and things like that. It was still very much like writing and it took a while before it was the whole interviewing and news side of things, but I got a job at one of the local papers up there and just went on from there.

In January you wrote a Twitter thread discussing how African Gangs are being misrepresented in the media. Can you comment on that?

I think a lot of people might have thought that I was saying there wasn’t a problem or that we shouldn’t talk about this, but I was saying let’s treat this either as something which we discuss similarly to other [topics], or we work out if there is something specific going on; also thinking about how are we treating this community in the first place? A lot of these things, it’s not because they are trying to make a living out of criminal activity, it’s kids being kids, kicking back against whatever is happening in their life and they may be feeling shit about themselves and their situation. If you’re serious about doing something about [African gangs], then this is not how you report it, and if you’re reporting it like this, how about you look at what some of the underlying issues could be? And if you’re not talking or looking at those, you’re not actually serious about doing anything about it, you’re just wanting to score points.

What was your motive when sharing your opinion on how African Gangs are being portrayed by the media?

I live in Melbourne’s west, I’ve worked here for a long time, what’s being reported is not reflective of the real situation. So I was in a relatively unique situation of being able to make that point, without necessarily singling out any particular newspapers or media who I thought were beating this up out of proportion at that point.

 

What happened after you posted the thread?

I’ve sort of felt a responsibility of sorts to follow it through. That’s why I’ve tried to follow it up with further articles, more news based ones but a few opinion pieces as well, drawing on that. Hearing back from the community and other people in media, they are saying that was a little bit of a circuit breaker for what was happening. It’s sort of died down for about six months, until that Sunday Night program which [was] probably about six weeks ago, it’s all sort of snowballed again since then. But I’ve noticed a lot more balance this time around. That was the other thing, you weren’t hearing from anyone in the African Australian community at that point, they were being reported about, but not spoken to. Whereas now you have people like Nyadol Nyuon and Maker Mayek being invited onto programs like The Drum and being actually talked to and listened to. The Guardian’s also been doing some good work with actually getting their voice out, seeing that that wasn’t happening six months ago I have a feeling like I sort of opened a door to that.

After your Twitter posts, were people from the African Australian community more willing to talk to you as a journalist?

Particularly since January, I found that I do have a good reputation and trust within that community and I’ve probably developed that further by [turning] up to a lot of community forums and [having] a lot of interaction that is not just news-based, per se, but just to try to understand what’s been happening and to try and see how they are dealing with it themselves and how they are working on some of the issues whilst also dealing with some of the further issues that are being caused by the reporting and political point-scoring as well. I’ve had people approach me for stories as well, a broader range of stories, so not necessarily racist-based attacks but other things in the community. So I feel there has been a level of trust that has come out of that, where they’ll know that it’s not just going to be a puff piece, but it will be contextualised and understood by someone who’s not out to get them.

 

What would your advice be to an upcoming journalist writing about the African Australian community?

Start by listening. Hear what is really happening in the community, what problems they’re facing, what solutions are being put forward. Realise that a lot of the media portrayal to date has been problematic, and that reporting of crime linked with the African-Australian community is being used for political purposes. Don’t dehumanise people and tar an entire community with the same brush. Look beyond the ‘gang’ tag and find out more about the many different people making up the community. Educate yourself – learn more about the differences between the various African-heritage communities that have settled in Australia.