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Media, Foreign Language

The commercial press produced locally in languages other than English is only part of the elaborate ethnic media that includes radio and television, most of which is substantially government-funded and the product of policies intended to promote multiculturalism, an ideology that became public policy between 1973 and 1978. Although most Australians associate the foreign language press with this ideology, these papers began to emerge well before, commencing in 1848 with a German publication in Adelaide (Die Deutsche Post fuer die Australischen Kolonien) that was distributed to Melbourne and elsewhere.

The foreign language press developed because of the poly-ethnic immigration patterns that produced substantial ethnic communities, which were dramatically expanded in their scope and scale as a result of postwar mass immigration. The establishment and viability of foreign language newspapers varied according to the numerical strength of their respective ethnic minority and the rate of assimilation. Two of the enduring Melbourne-based journals are Neos Kosmos (Greek) and Il Globo (Italian).

Foreign language papers catered to the demand for reading material in homeland languages, providing predominantly homeland news (largely sport), advertisements, and some reporting on the local ethnic community. Australian politics received little space. But more attention was given to immigration, migrant welfare and community relations issues than in the mainstream press.

The foreign language press has been largely ignored by those who do not speak the respective languages, primarily because the languages make the material inaccessible leaving almost no scope for the cross-cultural fertilisation that occurred with the English subtitled Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) television. This inaccessibility sometimes aroused government or community suspicion, particularly of clandestine political activity during wartime or the fermentation of extremism. Resulting restrictive legislation demanded impositions that were impossible to enforce and virtually ignored until abandoned in 1956.

The editors and some journalists became major figures in their respective ethnic communities. Some became prominent community leaders and spokespersons, while others, by focusing the spotlight of publicity, helped determine who became significant. Their principal political concerns related to the homeland or local community, such as the struggles between left-wing Greeks and the conservative Archdiocese during the 1960s, or the expression of the anti-communism of émigré Eastern Europeans during the Cold War. These editors and journalists directly contributed little to the political struggles that produced multiculturalism, although indirectly they contributed a great deal by helping to institutionalise and perpetuate the cultural and linguistic diversity upon which the multicultural society was established.

Mark Lopez

Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission, Guide to ethnic media in Victoria, The Commission, Melbourne, 1983-. Details