Telum Talks To... Ky Chow, Professional Development Officer at Media Diversity Australia

Telum Talks To... Ky Chow, Professional Development Officer at Media Diversity Australia

Despite being Australia's largest non-European ethnic minority, the Chinese community remains under-represented in mainstream media. Media Diversity Australia's Ky Chow shares his thoughts on the Chinese diaspora in Australia and the work the organisation is doing to improve the community's representation in the media. 

Ky is a Media Consultant, who has also worked as a journalist for SBS, Sky News Australia, The Australian Financial Review and the ABC. He is also a Professional Development Officer at Media Diversity Australia, which has partnered with the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council to host a series of events examining news coverage and connections to the Chinese diaspora in Australia.

Tell us about the Chinese community in Australia.
Like many minorities, there’s a lot of variety. You can roughly divide the community in two. “Old” Chinese migrants include those whose families came from China but also Hong Kong, Malaysia and other South East Asian countries in the late 20th century during some pretty turbulent times. They tend to speak Cantonese. Then there are newer Chinese migrants who came from mainland China this century. They tend to speak Mandarin, and grew up in a more prosperous China. They can find life here tougher, especially in the workforce. The section of the community tend to be less engaged with Australia's mainstream media, and make great use of platforms such as WeChat but also private chat groups.

These two groups do share some cultural values. For example, there is a strong emphasis on humility, hard work, keeping your head down publicly, family loyalty and generally a more collectivist rather than individualistic mindset. Unfortunately, this mean a reluctance to join public life, whether it’s in politics or media. 

What are the key issues that are important to the Chinese diaspora based in Australia?
Not just geopolitics or racism. Of course, we take some interest in those issues, some passionately so. Yet, the broader Chinese diaspora cares about the same issues as other Australians and migrants, and news coverage should reflect that. 

That said, education issues are particularly important to Chinese people in Australia, including school or university life, as well as access to education. Then there are more discrete issues affecting different sub-sections of the community. For example, many of the older Chinese migrant communities are part of Christian groups, and would have an interest in religious freedom. People who have more recently arrived from Mainland China are not just international students, but also graduates seeking to improve their career prospects in Australia's workplace. There are also many who are interested in coverage about geopolitics and China, which is where you’ll find a huge diversity of opinion.

How well represented is this community in Australia’s mainstream media?
We are the largest non-European ethnic minority in the country, yet Chinese Australians from both older and more recently arrived communities are almost invisible in the media. Well, other than the pretty narrow news coverage of them buying up baby formula and pumping up apartment prices, or reality shows where we’re either cooking or getting busted by Border Force officials. 

The handful of Chinese Australians who are journalists or media commentators tend to be very “westernised” ones like myself, and often are not very connected to the wider Chinese Australian majority - especially those outside their family. 

What needs to be done to improve media coverage of the Chinese diaspora and the Australian Chinese community in general?
Slow burn relationships come to mind. Mainstream journalists and Chinese Australians need to patiently build relationships. It’s easy for a journalist in an increasingly resource-strapped environment to put this in the "maybe later" pile, but it could provide a tremendous competitive advantage, given how underrepresented Chinese are in the media, despite being Australia’s biggest ethnic minority. 

For their part, the Chinese community needs to build its confidence and not fear media interviews. Media Diversity Australia hosted a panel discussion in November, 'Subtle Asian Sources: Reporting on Australia's Chinese Diaspora', where the guests loved the idea of using the handful of Chinese Australian journalists and media commentators as a bridge between newsrooms and communities. Of course, it’s important for any journalist to understand that the handful of English-fluent Chinese Aussies working in media or activism - including me - may only reflect a narrow cross-section of the wider diaspora’s views.

What is Media Diversity Australia doing to address this?
Right now, we’re hosting several public events to set up some networking and introductions. Following last month's event which attracted more than 150 people, we are now inviting journalists - and not just those with a Chinese background. Journalists can get in touch with us at to start building relationships with the Chinese diaspora.

Answers submitted by Ky Chow, Professional Development Officer at Media Diversity Australia.

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