A human rights activist who was recommended as a panellist on The Project says the way the show treated Meshel Laurie proves how much it doesn’t care about First Nations people.
Laurie suggested Indigenous man and senior advocate of the Foreign Prisoner Support Service Martin Hodgson join The Project panel in 2016, alongside other First Nations voices.
“I think the way Meshel was treated is absolutely appalling — she was not only an important progressive voice but engaged with vulnerable guests in a very empathetic way,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“The fact a person of such standing was also ignored in her requests to feature Indigenous talent just shows how little regard The Project has for the First Nations people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob have a lot to say on important issues, not just those that places like The Project deem ‘Indigenous Issues’.
“There are Blackfullas who are leading experts in health, education, politics, science, human rights and many other fields; to be treated as a niche and only asked to appear as guests when the story is about disadvantage is insulting and perpetuates all of the base negative stereotypes.”
Earlier this week, Laurie — who left The Project in 2019 — alleged the show ignored multiple requests to include Indigenous talent on the show.
In a series of Instagram posts and comments, Laurie claimed she pitched myriad proposals to The Project‘s executives, which detailed how the show could champion Indigenous voices.
In one post, she uploaded screenshots of a email she’d sent in 2016, where she pitched an “informal mentoring program” to help foster Indigenous presenters.
In the post’s caption, Laurie claimed the email was one of three attempts to employ regular Indigenous panellists.
In comments on another Instagram post, she alleged her ideas to improve The Project‘s Indigenous representation were either ignored or met with indifference.
“I tried for years to get The Project to employ Aboriginal comedians by the way and I have the emails to prove it. No interest,” she wrote.
She also criticised how the show observed NAIDOC Week, claiming the white panellists received the “credit” every year while Indigenous contributors were featured as a tokenistic gesture.
It’s important to note that in the time since the alleged emails and pitches were sent, The Project has regularly welcomed Barranbinya man Tony Armstrong as a panellist.
However, it’s still extremely disheartening to hear Laurie’s claims that The Project‘s executives ignored her repeated attempts to instil meaningful change within the media landscape by championing Indigenous voices.
It’s something that could have been done long before Armstrong made his debut behind the desk in 2021.
“The television landscape in particular is lacking any real interest in hearing from Aboriginal voices, particularly those who are willing to challenge the status quo and who are willing to say important things that might be deemed controversial — but this country needs to hear and face up to some dark truths,” Hodgson said.
“That can’t happen if you won’t even give Aboriginal people a platform. Quite frankly, I think the gatekeepers are afraid of Blak excellence and know they will be made to look the fool by intelligent and fierce Aboriginal experts.”
Platforming First Nations issues, such as black deaths in custody, must also be prioritised in order to spark signifiant change.
“We will not solve these issues, we will not curb the numbers if we won’t even give the issue air time,” Hodgson said.
“Because the victims of these practices are real people, with real names and real families who are grieving every single day… then real people need to be allowed onto the airwaves to call out this ongoing genocide and give the very real solutions that we have and are enacting at this very moment.”
Laurie’s allegations fit within a problematic pattern of disrespect The Project displays towards Indigenous people; it was only last week that an all-white panel debated if Australia should have a referendum to decide whether or not the Aboriginal flag should become the national flag.
Gomeroi woman Madeline Hayman-Reber also recently detailed the disappointing treatment she received from one of the show’s producers last NAIDOC Week.
I still remember last NAIDOC Week when 10 News First put out the Blak weather map, and a producer from The Project rang and berated me as to how I “knew” the First Nations names for each capital city because she was getting different answers.
She was looking at the AIATSIS map.
— Madeline Hayman-Reber (@MadelineHayman) July 18, 2022
Do better, Channel 10.