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Lessons from the Gold Coast women in media conference

Rashmii writer IDRASHMII BELL

BRISBANE - If you had ventured into the Twittersphere this past weekend, you would have noticed that the hashtag #wimconf17 was periodically trending as the most discussed topic in Australia.

If you had followed hashtag #png you would have noted that Papua New Guinea’s presence at the Women in Media Conference 2017 at Bond University on the Gold Coast was embodied by me.

It was an impressive event delivered on a shoe-string budget. Its reliance on generous sponsors and supporter endorsement, and the operations of the two-day event, were reminiscent of the My Walk to Equality project.

Event organisers including Tracey Spicer and Kay McGrath OAM did not shy away from publicising their gratitude to generous donors: the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Bond University, Flight Centre, The Star Gold Coast, Industry Superannuation Funds along with the ABC, Seven West Media, Nine and News Corp Australia all with the support of the Queensland government.

National patron, the media icon Caroline Jones AO, delivered the opening address: calm, articulate and respectful with a healthy dose of humour. Caroline set the tone for the two-day event.

Given I have no professional qualifications or training in media, some may be interested in how I came to be at the conference. That itself was explored early by panellists Christine Middap, Sandra Sully, Karina Carvalho, Anita Jacoby and Claire Bradley in a session entitled, ‘Wonder Women’.

Speaking on the progress of their stellar careers, four of the five panellists said it was men who had championed many of their opportunities in the industry. In saying this, it is no secret that my improved writing technique, the reach of my opinion commentary and essays and the opportunities that have come with it have been propelled by a handful of men.

Men in Media’ panellist and Foxtel CEO, Peter Tonagh, described it best when he told how men could advocate for women’s progression through an industry by implementing a program of individual development, gender equality, leadership roles and eliminating the gender pay-gap.

Rashmii & Keith meet for the first timeTonagh, in the presence of co-panelists Michael Ebeid (SBS, CEO) and Joe Hildebrand (Daily Telegraph and Channel 10) suggested men actively participate in mentoring by giving good advice or championing women (saying, ‘I will do everything to help this woman succeed’ and following through).

Francis Nii, Michael Dom, Ed Brumby and Murray Bladwell have provided me with invaluable guidance, motivation and support; whilst Bob Cleland, Philip Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson have been phenomenal in steering me and opening doors to situations where I can learn, practice and perform the craft of writing at both the individual and group setting. It is Keith to whom I owe much gratitude for championing my name and acting as benefactor, enabling me to attend #wimconf17.

Having recently finished the first phase of the My Walk to Equality project, I was delighted to be given a chance to revisit and undertake closer examination of the media issues and skills I have developed with expert guidance from Phil and Keith over the past year.

Followers of My Walk to Equality may have noticed that, throughout the marketing phase, print news and social media were the primary mediums used to generate interest in the anthology.

This was a media relations process of which I had no previous experience but was initially guided expertly by Keith and Phil, who then encouraged me to go it alone.

It is fitting also that I, on behalf of the MWTE editing team, acknowledge female Papua New Guinean journalists Leiao Gerega (Post-Courier) and Ogia Miamel (The National) for their patience and receptiveness to publicising the anthology to their readers.

Speaking of Papua New Guinean women journalists, it was with great sorrow and deepening frustration that I learned of the circumstances surrounding the death of Post-Courier senior journalist and business editor Roslyn Evara.

Roslyn Evara’s untimely death re-ignited the national conversation of PNG’s gender-based. And at a conference lunch in Bond University’s Princeton Room, there was a timely and significant address by Queensland parliamentarian, Shannon Fentiman, about how the Queensland government is addressing domestic and family violence.

Ms Fentiman – who is the Minister for Communities, Women and Youth; Minister for Child Safety and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence - spoke of the role the media has in reporting domestic and family and in a manner that raises community awareness and provides genuine support whilst simultaneously prioritising the safety and needs of the victims, survivors and their families.

Media GuideMs Fentiman provided an overview of the intent of the Queensland government’s ‘Domestic and Family Violence media guide – quick reference card’ (see provided in delegate’s conference bags.

It was a succinct and exemplary aid to ensure reporting of domestic and family violence is properly undertaken.

At this point, it would be remiss of me to not refer to what is the habitual practice by some people indulging in frenetically offering online opinion without adequate research. This was raised in the #WomenInMediaOnline panel chaired by Fairfax Media Brisbane Times editor Danielle Cronin.

For some time now, I have been subjected to periodic online attacks by male and female Papua New Guineans regarding the transparency and performance of my role as editor and chair of the My Walk to Equality project.

The most recent accusations were made by a serial offender, who is a long-time female journalist, media personality and television show host in PNG. Her ill-informed tirade was incited by a male Papua New Guinean social commentator and writer whom, until recently, I had held in high-esteem.

Taking the suggestions of panellists Kim Porteous, Rachel Hancock and Sandy Bresic, I may have chosen to “just ignore it, block, move on and don’t feed it further” as the most effective response. But thinking back to the experiences and advice of the ‘Wonder Women’ panel, it seemed too important a moment to not engage.

The panel had advised women to “champion yourself and tell everyone how good you are”, “speak up, challenge the paradigm”, “be able to use the word ‘No’”, “always maintain credibility” and “be responsible for your own progress”.

Therefore I reacted by referring the seasoned journalist to the My Walk to Equality Project 2017 Report, published in PNG Attitude. Days later, I await a response from both the male social commentator and the female media personality.

I acknowledge I am a not a trained or qualified media person. I discussed this nervously (but excitedly) at the The Star Gold Coast lunch table with Charis Palmer (deputy editor of The Conversation) as we mulled over the implications of long-form prose.

In attending #wimconf17, I realise my increasing use of print and social media to elevate and widen the reach of my written contributions to developing a sustainable literary culture in Papua New Guinea will require a genuine commitment to understanding and positively contributing to the processes, issues and removing the hurdles in the industry.

Leila GurruwiwiPerhaps Papua New Guinean male journalists, at any career point, could mentor or champion this for all PNG women writers.

If I think of the content, tone and vision I continue to build with my writing, I reflect on panellist Leila Gurruwiwi (The Mangrook Footy Show, NITV) and how she continues to dedicate herself to her career in media.

“Because I’m a woman and indigenous, I’m already a political statement. It’s up to me how I portray that to the world,” Gurruwiwi wisely advised.


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