A study conducted by the Public Health Advocacy Institute Western Australia (PHAIWA) has found that Australian media coverage offers an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Aboriginal health.
The Portrayal of Indigenous Health in Selected Australian Media study found 74% of articles about Aboriginal health focused on negative stories within communities, while 11% contained neutral content and only 15% offered a positive portrayal of Aboriginal health.
Negative portrayals of Aboriginal health frequently included the topics of alcohol, child abuse, petrol sniffing, violence, crime and deaths in custody, while the positive portrayals often included the topics of education, role modelling for health, sport and employment.
While the study’s researchers acknowledge the importance of reporting evidence-based information outlining social, health and economic disadvantage, they also call for the media to ensure positive portrayals of the efforts, change and commitment in Aboriginal communities.
“The media plays a significant role in framing the way we think about issues … although [negative] issues are important to highlight, particularly from an advocacy perspective, they tell only half the story and rarely provide positive aspects or hopes for the future.” noted Melissa Stoneham, Deputy Director, Public Health Advocacy Institute WA at Curtin University.
“There is great value in capturing positive changes, in collecting and amplifying the voices of Aboriginal people and organisations who are role models, and who run successful ventures in their communities.”
Encouraging journalists to engage with Aboriginal people and communities, upskilling Aboriginal advocates in media training, and building relationships between journalists and Aboriginal people could all assist in ensuring media portrayals of Aboriginal people are represented appropriately.