Sunday, December 20, 2009

Profile in NSW Law Society Journal ...

Media mentions: Irfan Yusuf
Sole practitioner
Sydney Lawyers

The story: I was contacted by a 2GB researcher to talk about Haron, a self-styled Muslim cleric currently before the courts. The mainstream media didn't precisely identify the charge, but it's apparently to do with harassing letters to families of Australian soldiers, particularly ones still in Afghanistan, and widows of soldiers.

Why did the media come to you? I suspect they picked me because the host had been involved in defamation litigation against some person they usually talk to, and they'd used stuff I'd written in evidence against that usual spokesman. So they expected me to be friendly, or their way inclined. I wasn't unfriendly, but I didn't play along.

Your background: I've done stints in law offices in government and private practice. Now I do mostly workplace issues. I also write comment in the mainstream and online media, and am the author of Once Were Radicals, which is a memoir, but mostly about young kids of Muslim heritage in Australia.

Your reflections: People see my name and the word lawyer and think lawyers are trained to spin, and so they make assumptions about who and what I am. Community advocacy isn't my favourite role, and I've taken it on only because others I see were doing such a bad job, in Sydney anyway. Usually, when some moron from within the religious establishment, or deemed to be, says something stupid, those who do the talking are middle to older aged men who have very poor English skills and almost no understanding of the broader culture and community.

How did the media treat the case? The initial researcher was sensible - she wanted to find out who this fellow is, and whether he has any religious qualifications or representative credentials. I asked if she'd approached anyone else and she said I was the first person she'd rung. On air, the host asked me why no one in 'your community' stands up and condemns this guy, and why did we have to go to so much effort to find you, and does the conspiracy of silence mean he represents what 'your people' really think? 300,000 Aussie Muslims have otherwise never heard of this guy. Fringe Muslim sheiks say ridiculous things. Why give them the attention they don't get from other Muslims?

Any tips for dealing with the media? Half the issue is to know what's worth talking about, and who's worth talking to. Not every microphone or camera is worth talking to. It's like if someone bowls a ball to you in cricket, you sometimes let it go through to the keeper. If it's a one-off, and you've never heard of the journalist before, look them up and find out what they're like. It's also a good idea to build up relationships and have an experienced journalist as a sounding board, to ask how they would respond.

Published in the December 2009 edition of the Law Society Journal.

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