Antoinette Lattouf worked in one media job where the percentage of Middle Eastern staff would halve every time she left the building.
“It was me and the security guard,” she told Macleay students at a talk on diversity in journalism.
The multi-award winning, cross-platform journalist is now spearheading change within the industry as co-founder and director of Media Diversity Australia (MDA).
Working alongside the likes of Waleed Aly, Stan Grant, former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, Monica Attard, Hugh Riminton and Katrina Rathie, the not-for-profit organisation has made it their objective to be advocates for diversity in journalism for the past two years.
And the mum of two told students even media companies with an emphasis on multicultural news were still being run largely by a patriarchy of Anglo men.
“When I was at SBS it was more diverse there but there weren’t any diverse people in positions of power. It was still like that when I went to Ten, Triple J and even back to ABC, things hadn’t gotten better,” she added.
“I realised things weren’t going to get better until they were really challenged.”
Though the organisation predominantly works with cultural and linguistic diversity, Lattouf has expressed MDA’s openness to working with other minority groups, with a handbook for conduct with people with disabilities currently in the works.
“It’s a bit of a tumultuous time to be a journalist,” she said.
“People often think you have to look or sound a certain way.”
But, glancing around the room, she added: “It’s heartening to see so many different cultures represented in the faces of the students here today.”
Speaking of her experiences being mistaken for an intern, cadet and “the girl from SBS” while working at Network Ten as a senior reporter, Lattouf said it had inspired her towards changing the nature of stories being told in the media around ethnicity.
“Because there aren’t that many people in senior positions or editorial leadership positions, I think it was difficult to fathom that someone like me would be there to be in a senior editorial position,” she said.
“I like doing stories that aren’t expected of certain outlets. I would pitch stories at Channel Ten and my boss would be like, ‘Oh Antoinette, that’s such an SBS story,’ and I would say, ‘No, just because it’s about diversity doesn’t mean it can’t be commercially appealing, it can still be fast-paced, it can still be in that tone’.
“When I was at Triple J, I was the least Triple J-type person. I didn’t eat tofu and I wore heels instead of chucks,” she added.
As of last year, MDA began working with the Walkley Foundation to create the Media Diversity Award.
“We decided we wanted to elevate the importance of telling stories about diverse communities.”
Recalling one of her most memorable stories, about forced marriage, Lattouf said the importance of cultural understanding and community connections are highlighted when telling a story.
“These are stories that need to be told, but let’s do it in a way that’s not fear-mongering and divisive let’s include those voices, let’s be fair, let’s be balanced.”