Peter Ajak: Young Broadcaster of the Year

Peter Ajak, reporter with The Gazelle, was recently awarded the NEMBC Young Broadcaster of the Year in 2012 for his Sudanese program on Melbourne multicultural station, 3ZZZ.

Osman Shihaby interviewed Peter about his Award and the program he broadcasts.


Peter Ajak

Peter Ajak – Award winning broadcaster


THE POOR ARE DESPERATE FOR A PIECE OF BREAD: a critic of the second series of Go Back to Where You Came From, SBS TV, 2012

By Ajak Kwai


The first series of the SBS program Go Back to Where You Came From started in 2011. The reaction was very positive because it was new; people didn’t know the whole story about the refugees and it provoked those who were extreme.

In Australian politics refugees and asylum seekers have been used by Australian politicians, especially since John Howard’s leadership that started in 1996. However, refugees who come to Australia by boat are locked up for a long time.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a similar situation happened when the Vietnamese first arrived; they were first locked up before processing. The treatment of non-White migrants and refugees to Australia has been an issue since the Nineteenth century. The White Australian policy showed the fear of Australians to outsider.

Beneath the surface of Australian society, racism is still boiling over. It needs to be discussed rather than covered up. In spite of Australia’s multiculturalism in the 1980s and 1990s, the birth of One Nation showed the continuation of Australia’s ‘White’ policy. During the John Howard government, Australia’s racism became obvious to the whole world. The behaviour of Australia upset the United Nations, which said it was against human rights.

Howard’s plan was to process asylum seekers in detention centres offshore, in Nauru, which is not Australian territory. The issue of asylum seekers and their method of entry to Australia by sea from Indonesia has continued to escalate public fear and political unrest. Since the election of the Labor government in 2007, and a sharp rise in asylum seekers seeking refuge in Australia by sea from Indonesia, the asylum seeker issue has dominated the politics and social discussion.

Go Back to Where You Came from: Raising awareness or Entertainment? 

The SBS program Go Back to Where You Came From investigated all these things. The question I am most an interested in is; what is this program‘s purpose?. Is it to raise the social awareness of racism in Australia? Or is it really entertainment that is just to stir up society over this issue?

I believe that it was just a kind of entertainment that plays with the big issues with no real feeling.   The emotions they play with are not their emotions or their lives. The whole show’s set up was the idea that by walking in someone’s shoes they will feel the same pain and in this way they can understand and appreciate what the asylum seekers went through and why they would risk their lives and come by boat to Australia.

But, the participants could never fully relate to the experience. I think the whole program was like an adventure, a reality TV show for a particular audience who wanted to feel the pain of other people, that if they share the pain their conscience is clear. I also think, as some of the participants said on the Insider program when they returned, there was a lot of editing that changed dialogue and action to suit the producers’ script.

Also, Angry Anderson admitted he has said what he thought the producers wanted to hear so he could “get the gig”. In this moment I realised that Go  Back to Where You Came From  was show business. Just another type of entertainment for another type of audience.  It also made me realise that the refugees and asylum seekers they used in Australia and visited overseas were like toys. A discussion of Michael Smith’s statements can show how his character was used to provoke the audience.

Michael in Somalia

In the first visit from Michael Smith and Angry Anderson to the refugees and the former asylum seekers’ houses in Dandenong, Abdi’s house and Hamid’s house, Michael was very arrogant. On the way, Michael said, “what will we find…we’ll probably find some smelly cous cous.” This indicated his attitudes towards the refugees and to people from cultures other than the traditional Anglo-Celtic Australian culture.

His words were not consistent, especially when he went to the camp with 3500 refugees, where most were children and woman.

In Somalia, Michael Smith was shown becoming friends with the children and showing them photos of his children in Australia, his swimming pool and the Australian way of life. He also said about the Somalis, “is this what we want to turn Australia into?” after he had cried and was shown to be more compassionate. It seems like the producers wanted to continually show contrasts to make drama and to stir the boiling pot of racism in Australia.

Consciences for sale: advertising Go Back to Where You Came From DVDs

This is exactly what I think it is: Go Back to Where You Came From is just another piece of commercial television. The picture shows the purpose of the show. It is helping to sell products to an audience who can never walk in the shoes of the people it uses.

And this is the questions I want to finish with: Was Go Back to Where You Came From for refugees? Was it beneficial for refugees or was it form of entertainment? Ask, who benefits?: SBS TV, the producers, the academics involved, the six prominent and outspoken Australians who all “got the gig”, who after taking a life-risking “refugee journey” – in fact just a different type of reality TV show – can get benefit in the media for their career, even though I don’t believe they are bad people.

What really benefits is that big boiling pot of Australian racism. I wish the Somalis and Afghanis had told them all: Leave us alone. Don’t make us toys for your television. Go back to where you came from.

Matoc Achol rescues the Sudanese radio program on 3ZZZ

By Ahmed Zaroog

Matoc Achol was born in Sudan, in the south of Sudan. South Sudan of course, is now the newest independent nation in the world. Therefore, Matoc’s new nationality is South Sudanese. He Left Sudan in 2000 as a result of the civil war, which lasted over 20 years. He stayed in Egypt, in Cairo, for about 2 years. In 2002 he arrived in Australia, in Melbourne, to join his brother Kot Mordecai whom he hadn’t seen since they were separated in 1993. It was a really special feeling to see his lovely brother Kot after about ten years.

Matoc in 3ZZZ Radio

As anyone who starts a new life in a new country, he started his life in Melbourne. In 2002, he was accepted at Melbourne University to start a Bachelor of Agriculture.

“Because of my limited English, I decided to defer my course to 2004 ”, he said. During this break he began his first job in Melbourne with a carpet cleaning company and he also worked as a labourer. At the same time he enrolled in English for academic purposes at Victoria University. At the beginning of 2003, he started his English classes, and volunteered   two days a week at Braybrook Language centre for about a year. By the end of 2003 he managed to complete his course and received a certificate for it.

In  2004 Matoc started the Bachelor of Agriculture as he had planned. It was a very hard start as he was the only one from a non-English speaking background at the campus. Not only that, he was also the only one from Melbourne to undertake his course at Dookie campus in Northern Victoria.

“I can remember my time studying at Dookie College. I was different to the other students– one big black man in the middle of Aussies was not that easy”. You can imagine what it would be like for a white person to be in a course with black people away from his home country. Nonetheless, he still has a strong friendship with the whole community of the Dookie College.      

One day during summer time,  Matoc received an email from a colleague at work. The email said that the Sudanese program on 3ZZZ was about to close down.  It asked for his help to save the program. He said yes, as he knew someone who used to work for a Sudanese program on radio. He contacted the station manager Martin Wright, who was very happy to have the Sudanese program back on air. Matoc called his friend and the friend agreed to come on air next time. Also one of the other former presenters came to the radio station and found out about the difficulties that the station was having with the Sudanese program, and they took it from there. They tried very hard to convince the station to have the show back on air.

3ZZZ Radio managed to arrange a short training for Sudanese broadcasters for 5-6 people. However, Matoc says, they ended up with only two presenters. Instead of being a backup person, Matoc found himself the real broadcaster, as there was no alternative. He enjoyed it very much as he saw the need in the community to have a voice.

“My vision at this stage is to have young people broadcasters for a sustainable future of the program, as well as having support from the community behind them” he said.

Because of this work a lot of people now are finding out about what’s going on within the community and back home.

Matoc completed his Masters degree in Agribusiness in 2010 and recently graduated with a diploma in Theology.

A visit to the Herald Sun

By David Vincent

I wonder how we will be received…

Left to right: Violeta Politoff, Ajak Mabia, Akech Manyiel, David Vincent, Abraham Gai and Michael Gawenda

It was very clear to me that we all had one thing in mind about the Herald Sun: it is the most unfriendly news outlet towards African communities in Australia. Whether this statement is exaggerated remains to be discovered. In the recent past, the Herald Sun has published very negative stories about African young people finding it difficult to integrate into the mainstream community, suggesting that they are a threat to the security and general wellbeing of Australian people.

This week we visited three mainstream news agencies: the ABC, SBS and the Herald Sun. The mention of the Herald Sun generated a huge debate and everyone wanted to be part of the team visiting it.

As we depart and wave goodbye to our colleagues, we realised that there was a lot expected from us. This put even more pressure on our team, but I just wanted to go there and meet the people who are responsible for producing some of the news that has defamed my community.

We were ambivalent about what was ahead of us in regards to who we would meet and how we would be received.

Tram number 57 pulled up at the Victoria Market and we all got in. It was a very beautiful sunny day, perfect weather for a chatty stroll through Flinders Street, down the tunnel and across the Yarra River. It was a pleasant walk. The conversation started by Violeta telling us about her American heritage; Abraham a keen photographer could not stop taking photos, and we debated whether we will meet Andrew Bolt. We had very random discussion on different topics but at the end it all came back to something about the Herald Sun.

At first we were unsure exactly which building it was. The first attempt failed after we asked one of the passersby whom we assumed might know which building was the Herald Sun. On the second attempt, we were pointed to a building just in front of us by a well suited-up gentleman. As we walked up the stairs towards the HWT tower there was an immediate wave of silence. The only thing I could hear were our synchronised steps up the stairs. It was a relief to see Michael G standing with the photographer Richard at the concierge. We all signed in and were issued with visitors’ passes. This is it! My heart started to pound more quickly than usual as a well dressed gentleman approached us. He introduced himself as Mr. Hugh Jones, Managing Editor. He quickly turned to Richard the photographer and murmured something. I gathered it was about their strict photography policy. That covered, we all introduced ourselves and the tour started as we waited for the lift. We all had pens and note books ready to take notes. I’m sure it was a short wait but to me it seems ages before we finally heard the clicking sound of the lift’s door opening. Michael said, “Make sure you ask as many questions as you wish.”

We quickly learned that Herald Sun actually represents two major news papers, the Herald and the Sun which merged in the 1990s under the banner the Herald Sun.

The tour started at the top floor where all the chief editors and sub editors were located.  At the editor’s suit, there were papers all over on the desks creating a very untidy work area but nevertheless you could see men and women at work. You couldn’t escape the pleasant newspaper aroma in the air. Hugh stopped and explained what each and everyone was doing. We all gathered around Neil, the sports editor who was kind enough to explain what he was doing. Although I did not understand what he was explaining, it was fabulous seeing him clicking through the next day sports page layout; it was simply amazing.

As we walked down the stairs through other departments, I was astounded how on all levels people stopped to say hello to “the Michael”. This man was famous in this part of the town. I was in particular surprised by meeting Bob; I read his name on the badge hanging on his shirt.  In my opinion he would qualify to be the oldest reporter in the building but I quickly let that thought go. He exchanged a few words with Michael as Michael introduced us to his former colleague.

As we walked down to the next level and someone from the team mentioned Mr Andrew Bolt…Hugh turned with a sharp bright smile and said, “Actually his office is on this floor, and perhaps we might be able to meet him.” He knew immediately why we wanted to meet Mr Bolt but there is more to that and am sure he doesn’t know. We all looked at each other as if the entire reason of this tour was to meet Andrew Bolt. To our disappointment he was not in his office but to be honest I wasn’t keen on meeting him. I simply don’t like him. We had another quick stop at the recording studio and to the library where Hugh explained how important this section of the building was to their work. At the studio we all gathered and took a group photo. Even Hugh had a chance to pose with us in the group photo. I looked at my watch and released the time had gone very quickly.

Apart from MX, pick me up, who were gone for the day, everybody we met – including those who were out in the field gathering stories – were all working towards producing one news paper at the end of the day. All we met were lovely individuals. It was amazing how at the end all the stories are collated to produce “the Herald Sun.”

They say, “too many cooks spoil the broth.” This is different from the synergy I just witnessed. At the Herald Sun you have 430 journalists who contribute to just one final paper. Hugh was very generous with his time, although he was not sure what to say when asked some curly questions about how refugee stories are told and represented in his organisation; he was simply humble and welcoming. He even invited us to come back or if we have any concerns/queries we can contact him.

I concluded Herald Sun reporters all just wanted to do their work with no intention of causing anyone or any group of people any harm. One man changed my views.