Chapter 34: News for minorities

Chapter 34: News for minorities

In this chapter, we discuss the best way of providing news for minorities within your society. We consider the special news needs they might have and how to serve them properly. We also touch on multicultural journalism and reporting diversity.


As a journalist, you may have to report on issues for minorities within your society. These could range from a small religious sect living in your local community to large ethnic groups living side-by-side with the majority, mainstream population.

Throughout this chapter, we use the terms minorities and mainstream population to define communities on numerical grounds. The terms do not imply that minorities are in any way inferior or second class. They are simply smaller in number than main groupings in society.

There are several reasons why your society may contain minority communities. These include:

  • Ethnic or language groups which were absorbed into your nation when borders were re-drawn, possibly by colonial powers or on independence. Examples of this are the Kurdish minority in Turkey or the Ndebele people in Zimbabwe.
  • People who were brought into your country, perhaps centuries ago, either to provide special labour, such as the Indians in Fiji and South Africa or the Chinese and Tamils in Malaysia; or to deal with overcrowding in their home country, such as the Gilbertese in the Solomon Islands; or for some other reason.
  • People who have escaped neighbouring countries as refugees, such as the Palestinians in Lebanon or the West Irianese in Papua New Guinea.
  • People who have come to your country as individuals looking for a better life, such as Afro-Caribbean people in Britain or Italians in Australia.
  • Indigenous people who have become a minority in their own land because of migration from elsewhere, such as the Amazonian Indians of Brazil or the Maoris of New Zealand.
  • People who have developed separate identities because of their religion, such as the Sikhs in India or the Bahais in Iran.

Minorities will differ from your mainstream readers or listeners because they may not be of the same race, religion or language group; they may have different customs; they may not share the same likes and dislikes, interests or concerns as the majority in your population. They may require different types of news, on different issues, presented in different ways.minorities will differFor example,  the minority Aboriginal people of Australia often have quite different news needs from the rest of the population, who in general have a European background. While Aborigines may wish to know about government, taxation, prices, education and similar concerns of other Australians, they also have special needs. They also want to know about their sacred places and schemes to preserve their disappearing languages. In general, they want to know what other Aboriginal people are doing in Australia and what indigenous people like themselves are doing in other countries.

If there are minorities within your community - whether within your country, region, province or town - you will have to know how to provide news relevant to them. You should do this both because they deserve it as part of your whole society and because it helps to build links between different parts of society.

This chapter is written for two types of journalists reporting on minorities:

  • Those working in the mainstream media;
  • Those working within the media of the minorities.

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Know your audience

It is important for journalists to know who their readers or listeners are. The nearer the journalist is to the finished product (whether a newspaper or magazine, a radio or television bulletin), the more important that need becomes.

For example, journalists who write for the major international wire services cannot tell exactly which media will use their copy, let alone the kind of audience they have. So they aim their stories towards the widest possible audience. Journalists nearer to the audience end of the process (working on a newspaper, radio or television station), need to know more specific details about their audience. After all, the news agency journalists are not writing directly for the listener or reader - they are selling their stories to the people who run newspapers, magazines, radio or television services.

Similarly, reporters and sub-editors who work in media serving small communities need a more specific knowledge of their audience than those whose news organisations serve larger communities. They have to know the nature and history of their area, the kind of people the schools and colleges are producing, what are the religious, moral and economic beliefs in the community. In other words, they need to know the character of their audience, both in the mainstream community and in any minorities.

Making assumptions

Do not make false assumptions about your readers or listeners. Do not generalise from your own personality and narrow group of friends and relatives and assume that your readers or listeners are "like us". Your audience may not all be like you, especially when it includes minority groups. The most accurate way of understanding minorities is from scientifically conducted surveys. Unfortunately, in most developing nations there are very few of these around, and even fewer devoted to the kind of questions you need to know about the minority's response to news.

The next best way is to conduct your own survey. This may be possible in a small and tight-knit minority, but it is usually impossible in larger minorities, especially those in which members are scattered throughout society in general. Any attempt runs the risk of not getting a good enough sample, and this could produce results which are not typical. You could simply be asking your own group of acquaintances slightly more scientific questions.

A third possibility is to draw up a rough profile or picture from the information which is already available. You need to approach this task with an open mind and to do three things:

  • Consider what you know already about the specific minority;
  • Divide that knowledge into a number of categories which you can analyse individually;
  • Ask members of the minority and experts (such as social workers or teachers) for details on these categories.

The categories you can examine and the kinds of questions you need to ask will include the following:

How big is the minority?

You may need to split this into components along racial, religious or language lines.

You may, for example, have a large Hindu minority within your country. You may be able to find an approximate number for them through an official census or by asking the organisers of their associations or priests in their temples. Be aware, though, that the people giving you figures may over-estimate or under-estimate the size of their community, depending on how they want people to see it.

There is also the fact that many people exist on the fringes of minorities, either as racial mixes or as people trying to fit into the mainstream society.

Where do they live?

Do they live in one area, or are they scattered throughout the rest of society? This is important to know because minorities which live in specific, well-defined areas often share and keep those features which make them minorities (such as language, religion, culture or nationality), whereas those who are scattered are often more like the wider society - they may be more integrated into it.

What languages do they speak?

If the minority uses its own language, you need to estimate how many speak only the minority language, how many speak the national language with equal fluency and how many know the minority language from parents but no longer use it.

If you find that a large proportion of your population rely on a language other than the national language or languages, you may want to consider setting aside special editions or sections of your newspaper or bulletin for their language.

Are they mainly of one or two age groups?

If most of a minority are elderly, they may have different needs to those minorities where the bulk is of school age. Age differences can occur depending on the history of the minority in your country. If the minority is a separate ethnic group which is being absorbed into the mainstream community, the only people left following the old culture may be the old people. If they are refugees fleeing to your country with their families, they may be mainly younger parents and their children.

Are they mainly male or female?

Although most minorities are roughly equal male to female, you should be aware of any different needs either of the sexes has. For example, most of your readers or listeners may be men. Do the women also want to join your audience but find nothing to interest them? Do the women find other media give them a better service than yours?

How educated are they?

What kind of educational background do they have? This will help you to decide not only what kind of news they might be interested in, but also the best way of presenting it for maximum understanding. Should you use simple language? How long will they pay attention to an article or a programme?

What are their socio-economic backgrounds?

This question helps you to picture the kinds of incomes your readers or listeners have, an important element in deciding which news to cover in areas such as family finance, taxation, wages, hobbies etc. Also, if the minority is very poor, you may want to produce a low-cost newspaper or magazine aimed specifically at them.

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Providing news

Once you have a clear estimate of your minority audience or audiences, you must find out what kind of news they want. This is slightly different from the question "What kind of news should they get?", a question which suggests that they might not always choose everything we think they should know.

What news do they want?

From your profiles, do your readers or listeners need you for their total news, features and current affairs intake, for none of it, or for something in between? If they need you for some but not all of their news, which parts should you be supplying and which parts are being supplied by other media, either the mainstream media or by any newspapers, magazines or broadcasting stations in their own minority language?

It might help to decide what kind of news you should be supplying if we put it in categories, with some brief descriptions. (While doing this, we should remember the general criteria for what makes news):

World news

We will define this is as news from anywhere in the world except your country and the country the minority may have come from originally or have special connections with because of shared race, history or religion. World news generally follows the patterns set by the international wire services. It usually concentrates on a few recognised trouble spots or specific issues which interest their major clients in the Western democracies.

Because most countries are now related to each other, it is possible to argue that important events in some countries will influence everyone. An arms agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union is an example.

Also, people are interested in unusual things happening in countries with which they have no connection. For example, a major bus crash in Scotland is tragic in human terms and will interest your readers or listeners who otherwise have no connections at all with Scotland.

National news

If you work for the mainstream media, you have the duty to tell all your people about what is happening in the country.

It is impossible to generalise about exactly how much extra you should give to minorities to help them understand national events and debates. If a minority is different only because it is an offshoot of the major religion, they may share majority interests in every other aspect of national life. If, however, they are a minority because they have a different language and culture, they may have little in common with mainstream society, beyond sharing national borders and a national government.

In the first instance, you may only have to provide additional religious news of interest to the minority. In the second case, you may have to devote large segments of your newspaper or bulletin to news of specific interest to the ethnic minority.

Your coverage may be limited by government policy. In Turkey, for example, the central government long followed a policy of trying to suppress the ethnic identity of the Kurdish minority (including their language and culture) for reasons of national unity. At the other extreme, in Papua New Guinea where there are 869 indigenous languages, the government provides state-funded radio in a number of languages and has designated three national languages to help communications between the different language groups.

If the minorities are new immigrants or refugees, they may choose to make their lives in your country, have their children educated there, receive pensions there, buy their goods there, use your country's medical services, visit sporting venues and be able to take part in the life of the country. They need to know the laws (and how people offend against them) and the conventions of your country. Citizens entitled to vote should be well informed about the political system and the choices open to them.

It could be argued that they can get all this information in the same way as the majority population, but very often the mainstream media takes for granted things which new minorities wish to know.

There are also specific areas affecting new minorities, such as citizenship or immigration issues. The mainstream media may not generally cover these in depth or, if they do, they view them from the perspective of a problem for the mainstream society. You should aim to write for the minorities themselves on issues which could affect their life or status in your country. Readers or listeners from minorities may be making great attempts to fit into the larger community. They need to be as well-informed about what is happening around them as their fellow-countrymen and women.

News about the minority community itself

This is where a journalist sensitive to minority issues can be especially important, in providing an informed and balanced view of what is happening in minority communities. Minorities may have their own newspapers or broadcasting stations, although these may give a one-sided view of local affairs. For other minorities, your newspaper or station may be the only regular source of news for many people.

The danger is in assuming that, because news from minority communities is generally less high-powered than international, national, regional or even city events, that it is therefore less important. All news items should be given the same treatment to make them interesting and significant. They should be structured properly, with the same care taken to maintain accuracy and objectivity.

News about other minority groups

Minorities often find themselves in unusual circumstances in relation to the rest of society. They will probably be interested in knowing about other people in similar circumstances, whether or not they come from their own group. The news provides a valuable way of sharing experiences. If yours is a Christian country, a Moslem father's battle with a local school over his daughter's education will probably interest Hindu parents too. A community raising money for its own mosque will clearly interest other Islamic communities. You should try to be informed about what is happening in all the minority communities and ask whether any of their events are newsworthy for your other readers or listeners.

News from special countries overseas

Minority communities often feel a special link with another country or region, especially if it is where they originated. They may also have a special interest in other people of the same race or religion elsewhere in the world. There is an obvious need to tell members of minority communities what is happening in these special countries or regions, where they may still have friends and relatives or where they see people facing similar problems to themselves.

For example, if a significant minority of your readers or listeners are Roman Catholic in a non-Catholic country, they will want to know about events or announcements in the Vatican. If the minority are black people in a white society, they may want to know about the civil rights movement in the United States or the struggle of the Indians in Brazil.

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You will probably need to be very sensitive when reporting on issues involving minorities. Very often, their place in mainstream society is unsure. This does not mean that you should ignore the existence of tensions, simply that you should not make them worse by your reporting.

There may, for example, be a feeling among some members of the majority that the minority population is taking away jobs or following strange customs. If you report on such areas, you should try extra hard to present a reasonable and balanced picture of the situation. Do not disguise problems, but neither should you exaggerate them. Beware of adopting stereotypes about members of minority groups such as "All Scots are mean" or "All Americans are noisy". Stereotyping is the process by which we think we recognise a common feature in members of a particular group (whether a race, religion, sex, occupation etc) and then attribute that feature to every member of the group, whether they possess it or not. Stereotypes are based on generalisations, and are usually wrong. Repeating such stereotypes will increase tensions and drive away readers or listeners from the offended minority.

You should also be sensitive when reporting on minority communities within which (or between which) there are very strong social, ethnic or political divisions. You have to try even harder to tread a middle path of objectivity in your choice of words. You might personally believe that one side has such extreme views and is so socially divisive that they do not deserve fair treatment. Treat all factions fairly and allow the reader or listener to judge.

You must also be fair in your choice of news sources. Do not rely on the same sources time and time again. It is very tempting to keep returning to the same sources, especially if you share similar views. It is usually more difficult to develop other sources within the minority community, but you must try. Finding new sources can often prove rewarding, because such new sources are often so pleased at being given a fair hearing that they lead you to other stories, helping to build up a network of information.

Reporting on small communities has both good and bad points. On the positive side, you get to know people well, you can find out quite quickly when someone is not telling the truth, you can get a fairly good idea of what is happening, and you get feedback from readers or listeners on your work. On the negative side, you may feel exposed and threatened when covering difficult issues and it is often hard to keep secrets when preparing material for news and current affairs. This is especially so when you are a member of the minority yourself.

You may be the only journalist working on a particular story in a minority community, unlike the mainstream media which tends to hunt in packs and give moral support in difficult situations. It takes courage to hunt alone, but it is often the most worthwhile form of journalism you can find.

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When reporting on minorities from the outside, you must still maintain a high level of accuracy. It is not good enough to argue that your mainstream readers or listeners will not notice mistakes. They may not, but members of the minority you are reporting on will notice them.

You should be particularly careful about getting the correct spelling of people's names. If they come from an ethnic minority, the spellings may not be familiar to you. Even if you think you know how to spell an interviewee's name, double-check. They will not mind. If you are a broadcast journalist, you also need to check the pronunciation of names. Write them down phonetically. For example, you might write the English name Gloucester as GLO-sta, or the Jewish name Chaim as HI-me.

Be careful with titles or designations, especially of organisations or individuals. If you have interviewed the president of the "Mollok People's Welfare Club", quote the name correctly. If you say he is the president of the "Mollok People's Social Club", you may be referring to an altogether different group, possibly enemies.

Similarly, check how people wish to be known. Many Asian societies put a person's family name first, followed by other names, so that the first Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kwan Yu, is known in second references as "Mr Lee". The full name of the first Prime Minister of Fiji was Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (Ratu being a Fijian title). He was known in second references as "Ratu Mara". Roman Catholic priests are known as "Father", whereas Methodist ministers are usually called "Mister". The list is endless. You should always check to make sure that you are using a person's correct title.

If you are reporting on a minority for mainstream readers or listeners, you may have to explain briefly what a particular title or designation means. Thus the Dalai Lama could be described as "the head of the Tibetan Buddhist religion". Of course, you may have to do similar kinds of translation if you are reporting on mainstream issues for a minority audience.

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Be aware of the different minorities and different kinds of minorities which may exist within your society

In order to assess the news needs of a specific minority, you must first know some essential facts about such things as its size, location, languages, average age, education and lifestyles

Minorities will probably need additional news to that provided for the mainstream society

You may have to present news to minorities in a different way or from a different viewpoint

You must be sensitive to the special pressures on minorities, and avoid stereotyping people

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>>go to next chapter

Index to Chapter 34
  1. Who are minorities?
  2. Know your audience
  3. Providing news
  4. Sensitivity
  5. Accuracy
  6. To summarise
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