‘Male, stale and pale’ is one way Australian media has been described in recent years. As the proportion of Australians with at least one parent born in overseas continues to grow, Australian media still doesn’t look much different to how it did decades ago.
Statistics from Screen Australia help illustrate this: While 32% of Australians have a first or second-generation background other than Anglo-Celtic, according to a 2016 report, people of this background make up just 18% of main characters in TV dramas.
When it comes to news reporting, viewers could be forgiven for thinking that the discrepancy is even starker.
The recent retirement of iconic SBS World News anchor Lee Lin Chin showed how untenable representation is in Australian news media. Announcing her retirement in July after 30 years, Indonesia-born Singapore-raised Chin received an outpouring of tributes across the country.
None were as potent as those from young Australian-Asian viewers lamenting the loss of the most prominent Australian-Asian voice in media.
A new voice
What’s clear to many young people is that mainstream Australian media is not going to diversify on its own. Enter Liminal.
In 2016, Leah Jing decided it was time for Asian-Australians to carve out their own space in the media.
Each Monday, the website profiles an emerging Asian-Australian creative, touching on the way race, politics and culture intersects with their work.
The profiles, accompanied by stunning photography by Jing, have become a collection of Australia’s next generation of leading creatives. Among those featured are writer and editor Elizabeth Flux, screenwriter and playwright Michelle Law and fashion designer Amie Mai.
Calling Liminal her own “tiny act of resistance”, Jing uses the profiles to explore questions often overlooked by mainstream Australian media.
“In the last decade I’ve seen a growing desire within the media for more diversity, which is really exciting,” she says. “I can only hope that Liminal has had some small part in changing perceptions of Asian-Australians within the Australian media landscape.”
The project’s mission statement is to create a ‘space for the exploration, interrogation and celebration of the Asian-Australian experience.’ Jing is passionate about these values.
“I started Liminal because I was interested in creating space for and holding conversations with people who are often mis- or under-represented. I think it’s important to create visibility, and to make sure our stories are told by us, not for us,” she says.
Based in Melbourne, Liminal is partly funded by a VicArts grant, a government initiative that offers up to AUS$44,000 to collectives for creative endeavours. For Liminal, this funding means the site stays clean of advertising and allows Jing to pay its interviewers and a design director.
“As editor I’m unpaid and the editorial team works on a volunteer basis,” she says, adding that better representation motivates much of the team. “I think people want to work with Liminal because of our ethos and vision for a fairer future.”
Searching for solutions
The grant will also allow Liminal to release a print edition at the end of this year.
A printed edition will cap off a huge year for the project, which has included a collaboration with the newly established Australian bureau of the New York Times.
Jing took over the popular New York Times Australia Facebook group for a week in late May to lead conversations based on tough questions raised in the newspaper’s reporting and opinion pieces.
She used the space to debate frequent Liminal questions — who can claim ownership, the role of mainstream white Australia in combating racism — with a broader audience.
“It was interesting accessing a new audience, to be in continual conversation with a huge range of people we might not have otherwise come into contact with,” she says.
But Jing hopes Liminal won’t be a long term project — that soon it will be made redundant.
“I’d like to think we won’t need Liminal, that we’ll become unnecessary due to an increase in ethical media representation through major media outlets, on screen, in books,” she says.
“If this doesn’t happen, I suppose we’ll keep doing the work we do best: working towards better representation, supporting, interrogating, uplifting and celebrating the Asian-Australian experience.”