“If you don't include all voices, you don’t get the truth”: Jan Fran

‘If you don’t include all voices, you don’t get the truth’: Jan Fran tells Tarla Lambert

Jan Fran

Jan Fran has a funny story she tells people about how she ended up at the SBS.

“I often tell people I ended up working at SBS because I confused Kerry O’Brien with Tony Jones at the ABC Cadetship exam, and didn’t get a Cadetship at the ABC.”

On Wednesday morning, the social commentator, known for her biting comedy and unique voice on SBS’s The Feed, spoke to our publisher and co-owner Tarla Lambert, about the state of the current media industry in Australia, and it’s lack of women’s voices. 

Fran was at SBS’s The Feed for six years, a show she said was “very versatile, very flexible, very agile and creative.”

“You’ve got to be able to pivot and change,” she said of news platforms going into the future. “You can only ever do the next best thing. That will take you to the next step. The worst thing you can do is do nothing.”

“People are terrified of change. I would be far more terrified of not changing than being terrified of change.”

“I just don’t think it’s an option in media today,” Lambert added.

When Fran was asked to share experiences of challenges she’d faced in the last few years, she responded with an interesting fact.

“I faced challenges in the sense that I believed what was being told to me. Because you’re young. You’re told you are short and you are brown and you have curly hair.”

Fran is not exaggerating. Have you noticed that all women on news media have straight hair? I laughed out loud; realising it was a ludicrous truth nobody had ever pointed out to me. 

“There’s a very homogenous look on television, particularly on commercial networks,” Fran said.”Systematically, there are very limited pathways for people who look like me.” 

Fran is of Lebanese heritage, and started at the SBS with a cadetship after a journalist degree from UTS in Sydney. Around the time she graduated and began her cadetship, she said “there was a lot going on around the Lebanese community in Sydney, with ethnic crime and gang rapes. September 11 had happened. Cronulla happened. I felt like my Lebanese-ness was liability rather than an asset.”

She credits the SBS for providing the necessary platform for individuals outside the dominant white cohort in the country’s media landscape.

“Thank God for SBS. But part of me wishes SBS didn’t exist, because then that would mean all of the other networks are doing the thing that should be done, which is valuing a diverse range of presenters and journalists who speak other languages and who are tapped into communities that are not just the majority in Australia.”

“SBS cadetship programs commit to valuing journalists who speak other languages, who are tapped into other communities and that will be an asset not a liability and we’re going to value a difference in appearance.”

“Somebody has to make a policy change. Someone has to have the foresight to say we’re playing a long game, and if we really want to diversity Australian media, then we have to actually start targeting the people we want to see.”

“We still think we’re a white country. Anyone who is not white operates on the periphery of white Australia ” 

When Lambert asked Fran whether she felt any pressure in what she said on social media, considering her large social following, Fran clapped her hands and said empathetically, “Every fucking minute of every single day.”

“Yes. I feel a lot of responsibility, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. I know having a platform and a following is a privilege and I enjoy it very much and it’s meaningful to me. Particularly because I know there are many people who trust me. I can’t mess that up.”

“I try to be as factual as possible. I like to be as transparent as possible.”

In 2019, the Women’s Leadership Institute Report titled “You can’t be what you can’t see”, examined reporting across major mainstream news platforms in the country and found that women account for 34 percent of direct sources and about 24 percent of indirect sources.

How does Fran think we work past that? “We’ve always quoted men,” she said. If you want to quote women, what you have to do is have a woman on the book.”

“The practicalities of producing news will privilege sourcing men over women. Men have been building this contacts over time. Do the extra legwork of doing the work to find a female source. If you want more women quoted in the pages of your magazine, find them! Do the work. Set aside time. Do the work to find them.”

“News organisations need to be cognisant of that, and to provide the space and time for those things to happen.” 

Fran believes there’s a greater need for women to be in the news, “because there are issues here that affect minority women in very unique ways and if we don’t have the voices of those women elevated; we won’t have the full story, we won’t know the ways in which they are affected. If we claim to care about what is going on here, then we need to listen to those population.”

Fran went on the stress the importance of listening to minorities voices and how they are being affected, in their certain communities, saying she wants to hear from black men and Indigenous men about police brutality. “On certain topics, we need to hear certain voices, on how they’re being affected by over-incarceration, otherwise, “You don’t get the truth.” 

“Any sort of meaningful change, has to be a long game. If you really want women in your party or in your organisation, then you have to create an organisation or party that appreciates women, that understands what the issues women face women are. That tries to target the issues women face, that support paternity leave as much as maternity leave.” 

“We focus a lot on what goes on in the work place, but I think  we need to look at what’s going on at the home. They are two sides of the same coin. You’ll never have equal participation in the workforce if you don’t have equal participation in the home.

Lambert agreed. “That can only really come about through policy changes as well. What responsibility does the government have here?”

Ten years ago, when Fran started, there weren’t many mentoring programs in the media industry. Now, she says she sees a lot more of them. And they are promoting a culture of women in the business trying to help younger women is important.

“A culture of support speaks a lot the fact that you should rely on your female colleagues for your advice assistance mentoring, job opportunities and connections.”

“Hopefully in ten years’ time it will be even more pronounced.”

She asks those in power to put in the hard work and invite those who are not privileged by the colour fo their skin and the pedigree of their families. What does that look like? Reaching out and inviting more women to your gatherings and events. 

“The work is hard. It’s the stuff you don’t want to do. It’s annoying a bit awkward. It’s risky. But it’s necessary.”

Clearly, Fran has many admirers, this writer included. So, who inspires Fran?

“Women who speak out and a real sense of social justice and are trying to make things better for another generation,” she told Lambert. “Women like Yassmin Abdel-Magied who is constantly speaking up about what’s important despite what’s happened; the resilience. It’s very easy to speak out when it costs you nothing.

“If you speak know, and it costs you something, that is an indication of being brave. It’s paying the price, and you still say it because you believe it.”

“Chelsea Bond, Nakkiah Liu, Celeste Little, Ben Law, Ruby Hamad, Clem Ford, people who advocate for feminism. And put themselves on the line.”

Fran ended the conversation with this simple, but powerful, advice. 

“Be in touch with your purpose. What drives you to want to what you do. It doesn’t have to have a high and mighty purpose. Sit with that question; for what purpose? Understand what that purpose is. What is your core purpose. Find the organisation or platform or institution that best speaks to that and go and get some experience. Find the space that speaks to you.”  

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