ethnic press With over one in five Australians born outside the country, and two in five
having an overseas-born parent, links to the wider world are integral to the national
landscape. With over 150 national-origin and 200 language groups, Australia has a very
complex language, information and communication pattern, and our ethnic or diasporic press
plays a crucial role in the survival and maintenance of multicultural social relations.
The ethnic press performs a number of overlapping roles, ranging from providing
information in the heritage language on settlement and adaptation to Australia, to sustaining
contact with countries or languages of origin, and building or rebuilding community. If we
think of nations as ‘imaginary communities’, then the press sustains the imagination and
refreshes the sense of identity and association among its readers.
Studies of the ethnic press going back over half a century have documented the nature
of the interface formed between settlers, the dynamics of their countries of origin and the
wider society. During periods of conflict, some papers have been closed down or come under
security censorship – such as the German press (the oldest, Die Deutsche Post, est. 1848)
during World War I, and the German and Italian press during World War II. As the digital
media have flourished and the makeup of immigrant communities has changed, the ethnic
print media have had to reposition themselves in acknowledgement of the technical
transformation and the new capacities of online media, and the changing needs of
In an analysis of the ethnic press by Ata and Ryan in the late 1980s, 16 language
groups were examined. Four broad functions, drawing on a study by Gilson and Zubrzycki
some 20 years earlier, were proposed: the maintenance of cultural identity, communication of
Australian news, orientation to Australia and acting as a brake on assimilation. The tension
between opening Australia to immigrants and protecting them from Australia showed in the
emphasis on nostalgia for older communities, on the focus in some communities on struggles
in the homeland and on building an ethno-Australian identity based on commitment to the
new land. In the 1980s, the Arabic and Vietnamese papers were deeply involved in homeland
politics, while the Polish sustained a dogged anti-communism. The Jewish press was not so
much ethnic as politico-religious, with a focus on support for Israel.
The first Italian papers were developed for émigré political activists at the turn of the
20th century. While they did not last long, as more Italians arrived new outlets were
established – though they were hampered by the rural dispersal and low literacy of Italian
workers, most of whom spoke dialect. By the 1920s, the Italian language press had expanded,
supported by the new Fascist government. Anti-fascist papers were more popular in the
remote mining camps and canefields. Sydney’s weekly La Fiamma (1947– ) grew by the
1960s to a circulation of 44,000. Melbourne’s Il Globo (1959– ) began as a weekly, then went
daily in 1978. It bought out La Fiamma in 1985 as Melbourne became the bigger of the two
Italian communities. Both papers focused on sustaining community and advertising the
passing of former migrants.
Long-time Il Globo editor Nino Randazzo was also a political activist, elected in
2006 as Senator from Africa, Australia and Asia to the Italian Parliament. Randazzo had been
a strong advocate of defending the reputation of Italo-Australians (against the common Mafia
stereotypes) and promoting a wider multiculturalism. With the advent of digital access, the
papers retained their hard-copy circulation, with Il Globo selling 30,000 copies, while it also
offered an online service, including an English-language magazine designed to appeal to the
second and third generations.
The Greek-language press has been more controversial. In the 75 years to 1989, some
24 Greek-language papers were launched in Australia, beginning with Australis (est. 1913 ) add bracket
and still available as Vima Tis Ekklisias.
By the 1980s, the spread of papers reflected a range of allegiances. Many of the
papers had first appeared when the Australian government released restrictions on publication
in ‘foreign languages’ in 1956; by 1989, three publishers controlled most of the outlets. The
Media Press group, run by Theo Skalkos since the early 1960s, grew to some prominence in
the 1970s as the printer of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, especially the Australian. By the
1990s, Skalkos had spread out into more than 80 magazines and papers in 40 ethnic
languages, and began Greek radio and television programs. Media Press was placed in
receivership in 2003, leading to the closure of his Greek Herald and Al-Barak (Arabic)
mastheads. Skalkos was declared bankrupt in 2005, after huge defamation payouts were won
by the Greek Archbishop and many prominent Greek identities; he was taken to the Fair
Work Commission in 2012 where he was found to have underpaid a journalist on his Serbian
masthead Novosti (1963– ) for 10 years.
The primary focus of the Greek press has been the maintenance of Greek language
and culture, and the sponsoring of philo-hellenic activities and discussions. The left of centre
Neos Kosmos (1957– ) now focuses its activities through the online edition, gearing itself
towards later-generation young Greek-Australian readers. Government advertising of
services for older Australians provides a significant part of the income supporting some of
The ethnic press have undergone some profound transformations, partly because the
earlier communities have aged. In 2013, the NSW Community Relations Commission listed
over 140 different daily, weekly and monthly newspapers in over 40 languages across
Australia. Its own service provides daily summaries to clients in 11 languages. There are 22
Indian papers, 13 Chinese, 10 Arabic and Korean, nine Turkish, eight Vietnamese and seven
Greek outlets, with languages ranging from Armenian to Urdu. Such diversity reveals quite a
complex pattern between and within language groups.
Two contemporary examples, the Arabic and the Chinese press, represent important
but very different challenges to the press in Australia. The Arabs are drawn from a
multinational background, with religious differences, and a diversity of countries, regimes
and political struggles. By 2012, the Arab spring of the previous year had torn apart the takenfor-
granted crescent of conservative dictatorships, and opened up a future of deep uncertainty
with many Australian reverberations.
The study from 1986 selected three Lebanese Arabic papers – El Telegraph (1970– )
(then 10,000–15,000 circulation with a total Lebanese population of 56,000) and two weeklies
of the left and Christian right. With the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, the papers moved
from local communal news and information to a much more active engagement with the
homeland and partisan identification. El Telegraph tended to report stories on both Muslims
and Christians – by the mid-1980s, the left was strongly supporting the Palestinian cause
against Israel, while the Maronite supported the Israelis and the South Lebanon Christian
army. However, El Telegraph advised its communal writers not to submit copy that might
stimulate sectarian unrest and hostility.
A generation later, the largest-selling Arabic language newspaper was still the
Bankstown-based El Telegraph, founded by controversial Australian Labor Party politician
‘Eddie’ Obeid. Obeid came to Australia at the age of six, left school early and moved through
a number of businesses before the newspaper found its platform. The growth of El Telegraph
paralleled the rapid rise in the population, first of Lebanese Arabic speakers (whose numbers
rose rapidly after the civil war in the mid-1970s), then later of Iraqis (mainly asylum seekers
and refugees, both Christians and Muslims). While Obeid comes from the majority Christian
Maronite community, the paper, under editor Tony Kazzi, serves both Christian and Muslim
congregations. The editorial line focuses is that readers are now part of Australian society and
need to adapt and integrate.
El Telegraph sold some 35,000 copies three times a week, increasing to five days a
week in 2012. The paper reached around 25 per cent of the Arabic-reading population, about
half of whom are Muslim and 20 per cent Iraqi. In 2010, Obeid sold El Telegraph to the
Australian Middle East Media (AMEM) group, which ran the bilingual weeklies Al Anwar
(launched in 2006 as a news magazine) and An-Noujoum (1998– ).
In November 2011, the AMEM group also opened a partnership with the Lebanese
government National News Agency, while building its online presence. El Telegraph also
offers an online presence, but only in relation to Australian news, most of which is translated
directly from agencies or the mainstream Australian press. Thus the digest function (covering
at least 10 Arabic papers each day) can only be accessed through the print version. El
Telegraph has also sought to build its Iraqi following, in part by drawing on unofficial
stringers incarcerated in immigration detention centres around the country. It has thus been
able to report on activities and issues inside the centres, often providing information for
families and the wider community not available in the mainstream media.
The Arabic press is thus pan-ethnic and language based, facing strong competition
from the online media, and cable and satellite television such as the Qatar-based Al Jazeera
and the Saudi-based Al Arabiya. However, unlike many English-language papers, El
Telegraph has increased its circulation and coverage in the print version.
The Chinese-language press reflects another pan-national audience with far longer
ties to Australia. The first Chinese-language newspaper, the English and Chinese Advertiser,
appeared on the Victorian goldfields in about 1856. By Federation there were major Chinese
newspapers in Melbourne and Sydney, with the first Chinese-backed paper being the Chinese
Australian Herald (1894–1923). These served a threefold purpose – to provide information
and rally engagement with political issues in Australia, especially Federation; to provide
homeland information; and to rally political support for various parties in China. As the
Nationalist revolution developed in 1911, a significant number of papers were set up.
However, as the White Australia policy cut deeply into the numbers of Chinese readers, the
newspapers declined. It was not until after the settlement in Australia of significant numbers
of mainland Chinese after the Tiananmen events of 1989 that there occurred a resurgence in
Chinese-language press. The first outlets primarily served the Hong Kong and Taiwanese
communities, using traditional vertical print and elaborate characters; later publications
served People’s Republic of China (PRC) immigrants, set horizontally in simplified
A critical change has resulted from the PRC government policy of supporting those
outlets that reflect its viewpoint. While the papers (especially the Hong Kong-based Sing Tao,
est. 1977) have their own publishing strategies, PRC pressure and influence have been
significant. As the Chinese relationship with Australia is complex on many levels, the
Chinese press walks through these issues with great delicacy, apart from the Falung Gong
paper Epoch Times (2001– ). The range and impact of the Chinese press is difficult to gauge,
because few have their circulation audited, and many readers access them online. The
Australian Chinese Daily (1987– ), started by Hong Kong immigrants, shifted from Chinese
vertical style to Western horizontal format in 1990, commencing colour printing in 1997 in
time for the Hong Kong handover to the PRC. It publishes 20,000 copies daily, but its
website, providing access to news specifically relating to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, as
well as Australia, receives many more hits.
The Australian New Express Daily (ANED, 2004– ) has particular links to both
Australian and Chinese political life; it parallels the Guangzhou paper New Express Daily.
Launched by millionaire publisher Dr Chau Chak Wing, ANED is closely linked to (but
separate from) the Chinese government and does not carry any content critical of the Chinese
government. The paper employs English-language editorial consultants to improve
journalistic standards. Although it is not audited in Australia, ANED is generally regarded as
the third largest Australian-Chinese paper after Sing Tao and the Chinese Herald, though
circulation becomes a less meaningful criterion of impact with web-based delivery. The paper
has little independent local coverage, taking its content from the mainstream press, wireservice
feeds and media releases. However it does provide a ‘getting to understand Australia’
The expansion of globalisation has significantly transformed the form and
consumption patters of the ethnic press, as well as the patterns of mobility and inter-country
movement for readers. The broad functions identified in the 1960s and explored further in the
1980s remain a crucial part of the contemporary dynamic. However, whereas ethnic media
once provided an almost sole portal into events in the countries of origin, the current media
environment has become more pluralistic. In such a competitive context, the ethnic press has
had to find new modes of attracting and retaining audiences, to provide value for advertisers.
Some may have other sources of funds.
El Telegraph is a long-established paper that is adapting to the times and optimising
its advantages. Its editorial focus remains the process of its readers’ integration into Australia.
ANED reflects a much more recent emergence, with less attachment to the integration
process, and more acceptance of the constant global mobility occurring in the Chinese–
reading population. Both have woven their hard-copy editions into the continuous 24/7 world
of internet media; both have struck a relationship with their heritage national government
news service as a key source of home country news. While both are clearly commercial
exercises, the commerce and ideology have become inseparable.
REFs: A. Ata & C. Ryan (eds), The Ethnic Press in Australia (1989); G. Gilson &
J. Zubrzycki, Foreign Press in Australia (1966).