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Friday, 17 August 2018 06:47 am

Challenging the status quo in New Zealand media

Arabic show ‘Bel Arabi’ host Moutasem in the Access Radio studio before recording

Media in New Zealand struggles with covering things outside of the straight white narrative – something Wellington Access Radio wants to change. 

Out of a humble office space in Wellington, traditional media is being challenged through news, culture and music radio programming being made for minority groups by members of the groups.

Access Radio Station Manager Kristen Paterson says if she was working as a journalist covering queer issues or covering the Muslim faith, she’s not queer or Muslim, so she wouldn’t be able to speak to their identity.

“The brilliant thing about Access is the by, for and about. It’s people making radio about themselves by themselves, for their community,” Kristen says.

Radio Access has around 80 shows, ranging from the Problem Gambling Show to the Lesbian Community Programme to the Voice of Sri Lanka.

There are 12 Access stations throughout New Zealand that do section 36c broadcasting (from the broadcasting act 1999), which covers women, youth, children, ethnic minorities, minority interest, disability and religious and ethical diversity.

“It’s really nice, what each region has and needs actually gets represented,” says Kristen

From town to town what’s really exciting is that some have got loads of Pacifica programming, whereas in refugee resettlement towns you might find they’ve got a lot more diversity in refugee background communities shows. In Kapiti they have a lot of older peoples programming,” 

Unfortunately Access’s funding only covers half the costs for a radio show, and programme makers have to pay $23 per half hour or $40 an hour, and some groups that really need to get their voice out there can’t afford to pay. 

“If we get forced to find the money elsewhere, do we put in more commercial imperatives and try to get every show sponsored? The sponsor might not like queer youth talking about homelessness, they might want a happy fuzzy story,” Kristen says.

“I’m not going to turn around to my program makers and say to them, ‘hey I’ve got your show payed for, but just don’t say anything bad’, that’s the opposite of what we’re about as a station.”

Access Radio has a community liaison officer who looks at the census and media coverage to find groups that need media representation.

“She’ll get in touch any group organisation she can possibly find within these different language groups or cultural communities, meet with them, introduce them to the station and try to encourage them to make a program,” says Kristen.

The community liaison officer approached ‘Bel Arabi’ host Moutasem Khalifah multiple times before he agreed to host the show. 

Moutasem, who goes by Mo, used to help teach English to Arabic refugees and had a good base in the Wellington Arabic community before he started the show.

I met with Mo in a recording studio at the Access office before recording a show, and he explained his drive to produce Bel Arabi.

He uses Bel Arabi to make life easier for Arabic people in the region, as many don’t have strong English, as well as showcasing Arabic music and culture.

Mo tries not to focus on Arabic news, because he says Arabic news is always bad, and most of his listeners have already heard it.

“I’m trying to focus on making their lives easier in Wellington by mentioning local news, or tips. My show today is going to be about winter tips, how to keep your home warm or how to drive safely in New Zealand during wintertime,” Mo says.

Mo came to New Zealand from Jordan three years ago to get a better life for his son, and says although Jordan is a good, peaceful country he wanted to ensure his family would have the best opportunities they possibly could. 

He worked at a radio station in Jordan for two and a half years before leaving to New Zealand.

“I worked as a programme manager, promotions manager, and marketing manager and in sales. I knew everything about radio stations, having this background, starting Bel Arabi was easy for me,” Mo Says.

Outside of hosting his radio show, Mo runs his own online store, is studying and finds time to give dancing lessons.

“I give salsa classes so if you know anyone in Upper Hutt that’s interested, let me know,” Mo chuckles.

Mo says despite some difficulty Arabic people have in moving to New Zealand, locals are generally very accommodating. 

“I feel that New Zealand people are really aware of what’s happening in Arabic countries, so try to be even nicer, they feel the suffering that they had. I feel 99% of people in New Zealand understand the situation those people are in,” Mo says.

Another Access Radio program supporting an ethnic community in Wellington is ‘Oye Latino!’ ran by experienced radio host Jorge Herrera.

Originally from Mexico, Jorge worked as a radio host for the Latino Community in San Francisco for 24 years before making the move to New Zealand.

Unlike Bel Arabi, Oye Latino has a focus on Central and South American news and politics, which Jorge says is too important to ignore.

“The friend I started the show with (Armando Baudin) and another friend from Peru wanted to have a programme with more fun, showing Latin America in a lighter way,” says Jorge. 

“For me the urgency of situations in Latin America compelled me to really look for good quality information, and I said it’s better to inform.”

When Jorge started the show he was only speaking Spanish, but he decided to focus on the Wellingtonian audience, because he used to teach Spanish classes and there was a lot of curiosity about Latin America and the dynamic political landscape.

“I understood that the way to go was to have a combination English and Spanish programme with information about the really important issues in Latin America,” says Jorge.

Alongside hard news, the show also plays Latin American music curated by Armando.

You can find a back catalog of Bel Arabi and Oye Latino! at the Access Radio website http://www.accessradio.org.nz/.

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