The fact that the government’s recently announced $50 million support package to the media had no mention of ethnic media - sadly reiterates, what is largely known and contested - the invisibility of ethnic communities, in what is arguably an increasingly multicultural New Zealand.
To add insult to the injury was Broadcasting Minister Kris Fafoi’s press briefing on April 23, where lauding the government’s benign support Mr Fafoi said that the govt was keen to prevent the risk of “loss of plurality of voices within the media” that were so important at times like these.
Sadly, the voices of ethnic media were either not considered adding any plurality to our national conversations or were deemed ineligible for any govt support during these unprecedented times of economic downturn.
This is when some of the ethnic media outlets, including this publication - the Indian Weekender - has been continuously and consistently providing all information, along with passionately raising the voices of the invisible communities and pointing towards some apparent gaps around government policies during these rapidly changing times of public health pandemic.
They had almost exactly similar experiences during these unprecedented Covid-19 lockdown times - like their peers in the mainstream media - where they have seen an incredible increase in the readership and engagement with their content, but a significant crash of advertisement-revenue.
However, unlike their peers in the mainstream media, ethnic media failed to get any attention and support from the government during these critical times - reinforcing the perception that ethnic communities continue to remain invisible - regardless of the pace of the rise of multiculturalism in this country.
To be fair, this disregard of the ethnic media is not a making of this government singularly alone.
In fact, the government would rarely be expected to be aware of business models of many of these ethnic and community publications currently in operation in the country.
For long in this country, ethnic media has remained relatively invisible to media analysts, foundations and journalism schools.
Neither has there been any research, education or funding aimed at producing excellent journalists and sustainable news outlets to serve these increasing numbers of ethnic audiences.
Nor has there been any systematic engagement of these ethnic media outlets by academic institutions and government bodies, tasked with the job of creating institutional knowledge on ethnic media.
In the absence of any research and institutional knowledge about these media outlets right from their purpose of existence to the grinds of their day to day existence, especially in today’s world where media in itself is embattled for its own existence, it will be a stretch of the imagination to expect the government of being mindful of their plight during these unprecedented Covid-19 times.
The current experience of dealing with Covid-19 related public health crisis and our reasonable success in flattening the curve clearly shows the importance of “institutional knowledge” - that includes researches, data, numbers, figures, and coordination of information - in preparing our governments to come up with adequate responses.
Indeed, the government, in this case, did not have access to any such institutional knowledge around ethnic media.
However, regrettably, none of the so-called ethnic-MPs sitting in the current parliament - across all political and ethnic spectrum - had shown the leadership and the vision to lobby for this critically important issue of supporting the ethnic media.
In any case, governments in any democracy are designed in a manner that it responds to any non-emergency issue on the basis of strength, and consistency of lobbying and advocacy for the given-issue.
According to the latest information, there are at least eight sitting Asian MPs and nine sitting Pacific Islander MPs in parliament that should have shown some leadership to speak up on behalf of the interests of their respective thriving Indian, Chinese, Filipino, and Pacific communities ethnic media in this country.
Their collective silence to bat for ethnic-media, at the time when the government had shown the willingness to support the traditional mainstream media to preserve the plurality of voices in media, is a reflection of their own contempt of ethnic media, if not a disservice to their respective ethnic communities.
In that regard, all of our ethnic MPs are more accountable in this instance of failure in getting some support for the ethnic media within the government’s $50 million support package for the media.
However, where the government can definitely show leadership is in first acknowledging the plurality of voices that ethnic media brings to the national conversation, and then subsequently set into action a series of some collaborative processes between the publishers and journalists of ethnic media, academic and research institutions, foundations, government bodies, and create some institutional knowledge on how to support the sector.
The Indian Weekender on its part has always been committed to not only supporting the voices of our ethnic communities but also in enhancing the quality and objectivity of a professional brand of journalism within the ethnic media landscape.
It will not shy away from punching above its weight and contributing in important national conversations, including the efficacy of the ethnic media sector and the need for government’s support for this sector during the covid-19 pandemic.
As has been said many times, that novel Coronavirus does not differentiate on the basis of colour, race and ethnicity, so the government’s response should also do the same.