5 minutes with Victoria's #DiversityHeroes: Luke Waters

25 October 2016

SBS journalist Luke Waters has been recognised for his reporting of multicultural affairs as the recipient of the Media Award in Victoria’s Multicultural Awards for Excellence 2016.

In an effort to bring balance to negative media portrayals of South Sudanese young people, Luke’s reporting aims to give the community a voice and helps break down barriers between them, the media and the wider community.

We caught up with Luke to hear his perspective on the role of traditional media in giving a voice to multicultural communities, what the biggest issues are for communities, and why he’s so glad he started a dialogue with the South Sudanese community in Victoria.

How do you feel about winning a Multicultural Award for Excellence?

Immensely proud and satisfied at being acknowledged, not just from a personal perspective, but also because the role of SBS as a multicultural broadcaster is being recognised and appreciated. From time to time there is a conversation about the relevance and necessity of SBS – but when people consider the multicultural profile of Victoria (and Australia), it is clear that the voices and needs of new arrivals to Australia are not always being heard in the mainstream media. Awards like this are an affirmation that unbiased reporting on multicultural affairs is still very much relevant and required.

What is your family’s cultural background?

Unlike most of my colleagues at SBS, I am Australian born. I grew up in suburban Melbourne with little direct exposure to multiculturalism. Working at SBS has exposed me to many communities and cultures which have proven an unexpected personal and professional experience. The individuals and cultures continue to fascinate me. Coincidentally, my mother is currently working on our family tree, which will hopefully provide some personal insight into my own family journey to Australia!

What inspires you in your work on a day-to-day level and what inspires you on a personal level?

Day-to-day, my role is to find relevant and exclusive stories for SBS World News. For me, that presents continual challenges and exposure to individuals and communities who don't always have a voice. The opportunity to offer balanced stories featuring these communities in an original manner is a rewarding and continual challenge.

What achievements of your work with SBS/South Sudanese community are you most proud of and why.

When I began dialogue with the South Sudanese community, it was at an extremely sensitive time. The community was under extreme pressure and was reluctant to engage with the media (beyond its leaders) which was a frustration. Over time, and with the co-operation, support and trust of senior members of this maligned community, I managed to eventually gain direct access to young and emerging leaders from the community. Having these inspirational young women and men trust me enough to engage with me, and have them express themselves publicly, is the achievement of which I am most proud.

What do you think are the biggest issues currently for Victoria’s multicultural communities and how can we tackle them?

Empathy. Too often I hear politicians and different "leaders" from mainstream Australia offer their views on the various issues confronting Victoria's multicultural communities. My firm view (having spent a little time with the South Sudanese community and others) is that the answer lies within. Young leaders must be identified, and at the earliest appropriate time, injected into the conversation in order to achieve legitimate results.

Why do you think Victoria’s multicultural diversity is important?

It is Victoria. It is Australia. Therefore we have absolutely no alternative but to get it right. Overwhelmingly though, the reason it is so important is that it makes us better. All of us.

What role do you think the media plays in the community and why do you think it’s important?

In my humble view, the role of conventional media is crucial but underestimated, and the role of social media grossly over-estimated. Social media works largely in networks – accordingly it has the potential to further separate groups, individuals and communities. Conventional media is available and viewed by the broadest demographic. That is why it is critical to ensure the voices of Victorian (and other) multicultural communities have a strong and consistent voice in mainstream media.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about winning the award?

Just that I really hope it goes some way to helping Victoria's South Sudanese community. I hope to continue working with them.

What’s next for Luke Waters – are there any new projects that you can share with us?

Recent projects which have been really interesting include two trips to Syria this year. The first looked at humanitarian issues faced by those who are still living in the war-ravaged country and also included some time embedding with Syrian forces on the front-line of the battlefield.

The second trip was an Australian exclusive interview with the Syrian President Assad. The experiences, especially the reporting with Syrians on the ground, gave me an insight into the circumstances these people face. It's relevant given that Syrians will form some of the next wave of refugees arriving in Victoria and Australia. Given the circumstances from which they are fleeing, they truly are people who deserve incredible understanding and care.

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