Antoinette Lattouf may be an award-winning journalist, media personality, change-maker and author but according to her two young daughters, she’s really “the biggest nerd ever”.
Lattouf jokes that they’re her “biggest critics” and their opinions enable her to laugh at herself and find light and humour in dark places. “They are hilarious. They remind me that I can’t do a cartwheel, that I’m terrible at parking and my little one told me to get a real job because talking and waving your hands around for a living isn’t actual work,” she laughs.
But it’s Lattouf’s courage in waving her hands in the air that Australians should applaud.
Recently awarded the Women’s Agenda Leadership NFP Award for her work championing change in “a very whitewashed news industry,” Lattouf shares her drive to see more women in leadership roles in the media.
“I can’t help but feel that having women in positions of power in the media has contributed significantly to this reckoning that we’re currently enduring,” she says.
In 2017, Lattouf founded Media Diversity Australia with Isabel Lo, a former ABC and CNN journalist. At the time, Lattouf and Lo were working journalists with four kids under five.
“In addition to holding down jobs as journalists, we started this not for profit to not only highlight the scale of the problem, but also provide solutions and pathways to betterment” she explains.
“There are so many incidents and moments that contributed to what I call my ‘F*ck this” moment,” Lattouf says. “I was tired of seeing (and continuing to see) all white panels on news programs.
I was tired of hearing racist and divisive tropes from commentators whose only interaction with, or understanding of multicultural Australia is via their Uber driver. With social media and politics polarising the masses more than ever, the media plays an essential role in our democracy to tell stories with nuance.
With journalists being overwhelmingly white and very often middle class and inner city, there are too many blind spots, implicit bias and in some cases outright discrimination in reporting.”
Growing up as one of seven children (Lattouf is the second youngest of five girls), her mother would introduce her to friends as such: “This is Antoinette, my 5th, and she talks too much”.
“I think coming from such a big family and being kid number 5, I had to really scream to be heard,” Lattouf says. “I guess that’s helped me in my career too. I’ve managed to find my voice and use it in a very competitive industry.”
Holy white Jesus. This is not a joke. Not satire. It’s for real. I triple checked. pic.twitter.com/L0se5D20uf— Antoinette Lattouf (@antoinette_news) June 11, 2021
Through her organisation, Lattouf spends a lot of time thinking about how power operates and is distributed in Australia and how she can work to shift it.
“Like politics and the judiciary – power is not fairly or evenly distributed in Australia’s media,” she says. “And it’s not a case of the ‘best person for the job’ – that mantra is just nonsense and has been disproven countless times, in countless different ways, in countless studies.”
Speaking about her own experience, working overtime for a grad position in television as a “20-year old Arab girl from western Sydney who went to a public school with a father working as a roof tiler and no relatives before me had graduated from university,” she vehemently rejects the notion of “meritocracy”.
“It is not about merit or hard work, too often it’s about who you are and who you know that lands you access to positions of influence.”
“I had to shoulder barge or kick my way in,” she says. “It can be tiring to always have to work harder, work faster, be smarter, but also to try and not make mistakes because the backlash is worse and there’s little room for failure when you’re a minority.”
Recently, Media Diversity Australia released a study that revealed shocking rates of homogeneity within the country’s media outlets.
For instance, 100 percent of free-to-air television national news directors in Australia have an Anglo-Celtic background (and they are also all male). Within this group of 39 directors, there is only one who has an Indigenous background and three who have a non-European background.
The facts are staggering but sustain Lattouf’s conviction. Next year, she will be releasing her debut book, ‘How To Lose Friends And Influence White People’, which she hopes will start conversations and inspire actions.
“I moved to Australia at the age of 7 from London, it took many years before I saw someone else who looked like me let alone on the TV. I feel very passionate about playing … to ensure that the 7yo me today is able to see more diverse cultures."https://t.co/CF3VJRAbTT— Media Diversity AU (@MediaDiverseAU) May 14, 2021
“I was conscious of the fact that going into a space that challenges white institutions of power in Australia, wasn’t going to make me the most popular person on the block, so the title is a little tongue in cheek,” she says.
“I also watched on as Adam Goodes was treated abhorrently both by the AFL and large and loud parts of the media for taking a stance against racism. And of course for women of colour, it’s a double whammy of sexism and racism.”
“I hope that it can work as a guide for white people who want to be better allies and advocates but also empowering for people of colour, to find their niche and their voice and go in eyes wide open. For such full-on subject matter, readers will be surprised that there’s also hope and humour.”
As for Media Diversity Australia? It’s growing with new staff hires and public acknowledgement. Lattouf hopes to step back from the nuts and bolts to use her voice and various platforms to contribute more broadly to public debate.