This semester my Advanced Broadcast Journalism 2 class worked on a project called Reportingrefugees. The idea was to collaborate with the ABC and numerous local refugee support groups to put to air a radio show with asylum seekers telling their stories.

It was a fantastic experience and after a lot of hard work I completed a piece that, while not broadcast on the program (there was a shortlisting process and at that point my piece was not near completion), it is being uploaded to the ABC website.

The project aims to open up the world of refugees to the public so that people can understand the reasons behind a person fleeing their country for Australia’s shores. With so much hype in the media at the moment (and for the last couple of years) about ‘boat people’ it is a good time for a program like this to provide insight into a world that most people probably can not imagine.


Question 1: What contact had you had with asylum seekers/refugees prior to commencing this project?

Before I started work on the reporting refugees assignment I hadn’t really had much to do with refugees at all.

A friend of mine from a previous workplace was an asylum seeker and this was known to me, but we never really spoke about his past before he came to Australia. This contact became useful for another working pair in my class later on as I put them in contact with him for their story.

Question 2: What was your attitude to refugees/asylum seekers and policies pertaining to their management prior to commencing work on this project?

I had read a bit on refugees in the media but my opinion was not totally formed. I tended to not involve myself too often in arguments about asylum seeker issues as I felt that I was not informed enough to have the argument.

I always felt that I leaned further to the sympathetic side, understanding that refugees needed to leave their homelands. However I understood where people were coming from in their argument against illegal arrivals to Australia.


Question 3: What did you learn about asylum seeker/refugees during the course of the project?

I learned that the reason refugees come to Australia is that they are seeking to get to anywhere other than where they currently are.

In hearing my talent (Jimmy Chan) speak about his ordeal in surviving the killing fields in Cambodia I was moved. I learned that people don’t just flee their country to find jobs or even a better quality of life, but that many people are forced to flee to keep their lives intact.

I also learned that asylum seekers go to great lengths in order to save theirs and their families lives. Jimmy walked through minefields and jungle with his wife and 2 month old son just to get to a refugee camp in Thailand with a better chance of getting to Australia or USA.

Speaking to Jimmy made me realise that many refugees are extremely hard workers. In trying to provide for his family he has, through hard work, ended up owning multiple properties around Canberra and becoming a head chef. This work ethic is also evident in my girlfriend’s mother’s side of the family. They were Burmese refugees and before fleeing Burma were quite wealthy. They too started again in Australia with nothing and have all made really good lives for themselves here.

Question 4: What (if any) impact has the project had on your views of asylum seekers/refugees and associated policy issues?

I feel that the #reportingrefugees assignment has opened my eyes to the fact that refugees come to Australia with something to offer. In seeing other student’s work over the semester I have heard stories from a refugee who was a qualified radiologist in Iraq and now has to study again to work in Australia.

Seeing the way in which refugees can contribute to society in Australia has changed my perception of asylum seeker policy. Whereas in the past I have not been interested enough to read material relating to refugees, I began to read articles like this to inform myself a little more.


Question 5: What has the project taught you about reporting refugee/asylum seeker issues?

Working on the #reportingrefugees project has taught me that everyone has a story to tell and that sometimes it is better to sit back and let them tell it. My talent, Jimmy, was happy to tell his story and I feel that my assignment has benefitted greatly from his willingness to participate. Jimmy’s story is truly touching and it is because he speaks so openly and honestly about his experiences. The story is told first hand rather than too much being covered by myself and the result is a piece of work that people can relate to.

Another lesson I learned was about sensitive information. While I had no trouble with my talent, other groups had talents who were uncomfortable speaking about certain topics and as a class we were informed that we may be asked not to publish certain material if it could potentially endanger a person. I feel that even if a person has said something on the record, if it endangers them or someone else then it is not morally right to publish it. This belief is backed up by the MEAA Code of Ethics, stating that a journalist “has the right to resist compulsion to intrude”.

Question 6: How will you put these lessons into practice when you are next assigned such a story?

If I am ever again assigned a story such as the #reportingrefugees project I will approach it the same way that I have. I didn’t really have much trouble with my talent but other groups had a hard time dealing with certain organisations, and being told that they are not ‘real journalists’ (some simple minded people don’t realise that you don’t have to have a qualification to be a journalist). I would research the topic and contact organisations that deal with refugees, such as MYC (Multicultural Youth Services) in Canberra who were a lot of help to many students throughout the semester.

I would, again, let my talent tell their story. It is so much more genuine if the story can be pieced together so that it is told in the majority by the talent. I would ask my talent to cover everything, and if there is something they do not wish to speak about I would discuss the reasons and stay off that topic if need be.

I feel that I have gained valuable knowledge and insight into the refugee community from my involvement in #reportingrefugees. The stories that were created are so powerful, I have seen people moved to tears from my finalised story, and it makes me proud to have had a hand in te telling of these stories.