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Defining a high school debating topic – 03. With Hugh Bartley

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HUGH BARTLEY: Hi, how are you going? My name's Hugh.

Back in 2015, I was part of the winning team for the Premier's Debating Challenge for Years 9 and 10. And now I work as a debating coach. Today, I'm going to be defining a topic with you.

And this topic was actually one of the most popular topics in last year's Premiers Debating Challenge. The topic goes like this. It is, that the casts of Australian films and television shows should be required to reflect the racial diversity of the population.

So, it's a complicated one. It's an interesting one. And where should we start?

Well, I think there's a couple things we need to remember when we start to define a topic or set our model for the topic, or set boundaries for the debate, really, no matter what the topic is. So, the first thing we need to do is we need to think about what are our goals in the debate. Because we're the affirmative team.

We want to make sure that the debate is productive and involves all of the right issues. And so, we've got to gear the topic towards achieving those things. I think in this debate as the affirmative team, which should be pointing to the lack of minority representation in media currently, we want to give those groups a voice and elevate their stories through increased representation. And through that, aim to break down stereotypes and prevent discrimination and racism. And so we should aim to craft a model or a definition that achieves that.

We secondly, I think we have to make sure, when defining any topic, that we are bold and believe in the power of our change. So, don't be too weak.

Believe that we're going to make a difference. And the more significant our change is the more significant the benefits that we can claim are. So, how do we apply that then to this exact topic?

OK, we want to make sure that films and television are representative of the population. And so, I think the first thing to say is that we shouldn't restrict our topic by being too limited about it. So, don't put in any jurisdictional limitations by what state it is or what type of film that we're producing. Rather, we're going to apply this topic. We're going to make sure it applies to every film and piece of television produced commercially in Australia. So, no exceptions.

Practically, how are we going to make it work? I think this is a difficult question. On the one hand, you could say that each film or each television show on its own should be representative of the population.

That might work. Personally, I don't think it's the best option because in that case, you'd probably have a lot of films that would be white majority. It's unlikely that you're going to be getting significant films centred on minority stories.

You wont have stories about one particular community in that case. And so it's not really better than the status quo. What I think the better option is, is to say that rather than prescribing exact ratios for each film or television show, why don't we average it across the entirety of every film and television show that is produced by a film company over a period of time?

So, what this allows for is films that are specifically and directly about, say, an immigrant family and their story, or issues in indigenous communities. And we can centre films on that. And then we can also have films that are more diverse and spread as well. And so this average system is probably a bit more flexible than trying to say every single thing produced has to be exactly like this.

The next question I think is how strict are we going to make these quotas or requirements? Now, I want to look at the topic again. It says that the casts of film and TV shows should be required to reflect the diversity.

Now, I think that's pretty vague language. And it probably doesn't require you to have an exact formula for how that's going to work. And if you do give an exact formula, you're probably opening yourself up to some negative tax about whether it's going to be too high or too low. So just be flexible and reasonable about it.

Don't be too prescriptive. Let's say, obviously, the problem we're trying to solve in the debate is that there is not enough minority representation in this media and obviously that representation is going to be lifted. And we would say that it would be lifted to equal to or probably above the proportion of each minority group in the population.

So, in the case of all the different minority groups, you would have their representation in film being significantly larger than it currently is. Whereas, we'd probably see white representation go down. And you wouldn't be above the white percentage of the Australian population. So we can take commonsense approach to that.

And then I suppose the last question to ask in defining this topic is, who is going to be enforcing these new requirements? Don't stress too much over this. I think there are lots of bodies that regulate film and television.

Whatever is the agency that determines whether a film is PG or MA or M. That can be the agency that makes sure film companies will comply with the new requirements about reflecting diversity. And you could say that if they break those rules, then they'll lose their licence to produce. So, we will have compliance.

All right, I think those are the main questions that you need to ask in defining the topic. We've established who's doing it, where it's going to apply, and how it's going to work. So, that's pretty much it.

Now remember, we introduced our definition of the topic in the first affirmative speech. So it's basically, it sets up the whole debate. It tells us what the debate is going to be about exactly and sets the goalposts for the debate.

And it comes after a bit of context from the first affirmative speaker, or an introduction, where they explain why exactly we're having the debate and what is the problem that the affirmative is trying to solve with our model. So I'm going to give you, I suppose, an example of how, if I were the first affirmative, I would try and start this debate. So I'd probably say something like this.

Ladies and gentlemen, non-white Australians do not see themselves in film or in television. Australia, as a country, is a diverse patchwork of cultures. But our screens are a wall of white.

Where minority characters do exist in film and television, they are in small roles. It's very tokenistic. Or secondly, often in stereotypical roles.

So, we've seen way too many times that nerdy Asian boy at the school often wearing glasses and pretty much always walking around with his strict parents. So, we need to put this tokenism and these stereotypes behind us and acknowledge that media forms culture. And so, when we don't have enough minority representation in film and television, we as the viewers of this media internalise the concept of Australia and Australian culture as being white concepts rather than the multicultural reality that those things are.

We don't have any normalisation or celebration of multicultural stories. And as a result of that, racism, stereotypes, and discrimination continue to affect Australians of colour in their everyday lives. So we want to solve that problem. And we are putting forward a pretty sensible model in which to do that.

OK, how is our policy going to work? First of all, it's going to apply to all types of film and television produced commercially in Australia. No exceptions.

How will our rules look? Basically, each film or television company will be required to adhere to an average across their entire production scheme. And those quotas would be fairly strict in that they are higher than the current level of minority representation and probably mirror or exceed the proportion of that minority group in society.

So, we would imagine a substantial increase in minority representation in film and TV. And we would imagine the percentage of white actors and characters falling as a result of this. We don't want to be too strict about that.

It will be enforced by the same government agency that regulates ratings on film and television. But at the end of the day, we will see across all films and television an aggregate increase in the amount of representation. And what that also allows for is specific films that are about, films that are specifically about immigrant stories, or stories that come from minority cultures.

So, we sort of get the best of both worlds in that sense. And that is how we're going to set up this topic. Cool.

So, that's how I think we should start that debate. It's been a pleasure talking to you. I hope you're all enjoying yourselves and staying safe.

And so my name again is Hugh. And good luck with all your debating. So, thanks very much for tuning in. See you later.


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