Since 2021, The Wyatt Trust has partnered with the Economic Media Centre to bring diverse voices to the public debate about economic policy.
“By training and supporting people experiencing poverty to engage with media, the Economic Media Centre gives South Australian communities facing economic disadvantage a voice in the mainstream media,” explains Wyatt Grants Manager, Jo Edwards.
“It also helps people with lived experience of inequality to share ideas and solutions for more inclusive economic policy making.”
A project of Australian Progress and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), the Economic Media Centre has trained almost 40 South Australians and helped them share their stories and have their voices heard in the mainstream media landscape.
“In South Australia, we’ve trained advocates working on issues such as disability support, homelessness and housing access, unwaged grandparents with caring responsibilities, and renters’ rights for low-income households,” says Economic Media Centre’s Founding Co-director, Jessica Kendall.
“We’ve supported grassroots groups and advocates from organisations such as the Anti-Poverty Network SA to engage with the mainstream media to call for more public housing and rent freezes for low income households who are most affected by the cost of living crisis. We also worked with participants for national high-profile media spots like The Drum to comment on issues of ageism and discrimination in employment practices.”
“By sharing individual stories in the mainstream media of economic injustice, we build the collective sense of empowerment and draw out the structural issues that lead to economic inequality,” adds Economic Media Centre Co-director, Aliya Ahmad.
“By diversifying the voices on issues of economic issues and including the voices of those most affected by these issues, we can influence decision-makers to develop more inclusive social and economic policies.”
In the lead up to the next media training programs in 2023, Jessica and Aliya reflect in this Q&A on the Centre’s achievements, the importance of having diverse voices in mainstream media and public debate, and the valuable role philanthropy can play in bringing those voices forward.
Why is it so important to have the voices of people with lived experience in mainstream media?
JK: The mainstream media sets agendas and influences decision-makers who develop economic policy. The Economic Media Centre exists because civil society leaders around the country told us media skills were a critical missing piece of their advocacy toolkits. Small community organisations and grassroots groups were routinely locked out of mainstream media debates, despite being the most affected by economic issues.
The Economic Media Centre was founded because these communities didn’t have the capacity to engage with the mainstream media and influence policy, despite having the solutions, informed by their direct experiences of the policies being put forth.
What does the media training program cover?
AA: The Economic Media Centre’s two-day media training program in South Australia equips advocates with the tools and skills to successfully engage with the mainstream media across broadcast, print and online platforms.
The program empowers advocates with lived experience of economic inequality to confidently advocate for social change through the media by sharing their stories. During the training, participants learn about the media landscape and how to engage with it in a way that is strategic and can create social change.
Over the two days, participants also get multiple opportunities to practise their key messages in mock interview scenarios based on the issues that they are most passionate about advocating for in the media.
After the media training, participants are invited to join the Spokesperson Network where they receive ongoing media support for upcoming media opportunities. The Network also provides an opportunity to meet and network with like- minded advocates and build collective power and create positive social change through the media.
What are some of the Economic Media Centre’s biggest achievements to date?
JK: Through the partnership with The Wyatt Trust, we have trained nearly 40 people with direct experience of economic inequality in South Australia and have supported them to secure dozens of media spots across radio, television, print and online. Many are now regular media commentators on economic issues including key moments such as major housing announcements in the Federal Budget, or during the investigations into the welfare of children in South Australia.
Nationally, the Economic Media Centre has trained over 600 spokespeople since founding in mid-2020, worked with over 330 small organisations to build their media capacity and pitched over 10,000 media stories. We’ve worked with spokespeople and organisations to shift narratives on key issues that are drivers of economic inequality.
Ahead of the federal election, we worked with spokespeople who were academics, housing and homelessness sector workers and people with direct experience of the housing and rental crisis to establish the problem of the housing crisis and widen the frame to include diverse voices. We worked with spokespeople from migrant backgrounds, young people, and low-income renters, to insert themselves into the public debate and put forth new solutions to address housing affordability. High profile national media spots and front-page coverage in national bulletins forced the major parties to address housing affordability as a key agenda item ahead of the election.
How important are philanthropic partners like Wyatt to the success and sustainability of the Economic Media Centre?
AA: The Economic Media Centre’s model is unique in that it is underpinned by philanthropic investment. We are able to deliver critical media capacity for small community and grassroots groups and organisations because of the philanthropic funding model.
Media capacity and expertise is inaccessible to organisations and individual advocates with direct experience of economic inequality because many cannot afford to hire large PR firms or have in-house media staff. The Economic Media Centre is the only media organisation that provides this support to community advocates entirely pro-bono because of our unique funding model.
It’s also important to note that the partnership with The Wyatt Trust is truly unique because we work closely with Wyatt to actively dismantle some of the barriers that might come with participating in our programs. The Wyatt Trust ensures that there is appropriate technical and digital access for participants who join the media training program online via Zoom, and provides office space when possible, so that no one with lived experience of economic inequality is locked out of participating in our training and in the Spokesperson Network.
Community organisations already have extensive policy knowledge and community-led solutions. We’re able to inject a critical missing capacity – enabling them to get their stories on the front page of the newspapers – because we provide this capacity pro-bono as a result of our philanthropic funding model.
What’s on the horizon for the Economic Media Centre and what are you most excited about in 2023?
JK: In 2023, we will continue to focus on housing affordability and income support and a strong social safety net. We will also focus on long term narrative shift projects on issues of migrant workers and justice and disability justice.
We’re really excited to continue to work with The Wyatt Trust so that we can run another two media training programs and convene the South Australian Spokesperson Network a few more times. It’s clear that the South Australian Media Spokesperson Training program has enabled dozens of new advocates to engage with the mainstream media and create positive social change.
The Economic Media Centre’s free two-day South Australian Media Spokesperson Training will take place on 15-16 March and 10-11 May 2023. Learn more or register your interest here.