Supported by Media Diversity Australia, CoHealth and The National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council

Mahmood Fazal speaks with the Walkleys over Zoom

Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the story? It was obviously a story that you knew about and had some connection with. How did you get started?
We thought it would be really interesting to pursue it as a long form Audible Originals or an audio book or serialised podcast. Working as a crime reporter, I’ve often found that people in that world are more willing to speak to you if their faces aren’t on camera. So I thought it would be a really interesting way to have that authentic voice while making them feel comfortable and safe, because we are dealing with issues and people who are quite dangerous.

“Working as a crime reporter, I’ve often found that people in that world are more willing to speak to you if their faces aren’t on camera… because we are dealing with issues and people who are quite dangerous”

Obviously you recorded a lot of interviews in prison with people who perhaps weren’t that open to speaking about the issues — what were some of the roadblocks that you came up against?
One of the major challenges was access, trying to get members of the two families to speak on the record, which was difficult for two reasons. One, because the violence that came from this dispute happened so long ago — it’s an issue that’s left buried in the past. Trying to get them to speak on the issue again, they didn’t want to reopen old wounds. And another major issue was that we’re dealing with stories that involve prisoners and Australia is one of the most difficult places in the world to try and gain access to inmates. There’s very little transparency afforded to reporters who wish to speak with inmates. There’s a lot of red tape and the prison like to have control over the trajectory of your narrative.

How did the project start out?
We were commissioned. At Vice, a bunch of writers pitched stories to Audible, and this was one that they were interested in. When they decided that they wanted to go ahead with it, we were really thrown into it full steam ahead. It’s one of those stories that I’ve always been thinking about because I would have been 13 around the time that these crimes occurred, but I felt they fuelled a lot of the prejudice and stereotypes around what it meant to be young, Muslim and from the Western Suburbs — this kind of stereotype of ‘who are these young Muslims men in the wake of 9/11?

“It was an important story because it not only shaped the wider public’s caricature of who we were, but also teased out why some people in our communities were reacting in a very violent way to what was going on in our community”

I thought it was an important story because it not only shaped the wider public’s caricature of who we were, but also teased out why some people in our communities were reacting in a very violent way to some of the societal underpinnings of what was going on in our community.

Because there was no one providing our side of the story. There still isn’t, really. I could be wrong, but I haven’t really come across any Muslim-led interrogations of gang violence in the Western Suburbs or investigations into radicalism and things like that. It’s not because we don’t want to tell those stories — it’s because it’s really hard to find the opportunities to do so.

Thinking more broadly about diversity in Australian media as a whole, which is not a very diverse place, do you have thoughts of actionable ways that Australian newsrooms can encourage a more diverse spread of views and opinions?
The obvious one would just be to hire more people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities [and] more people of colour. I might be in a bubble, but there’s no lack of reporters from those various backgrounds and communities. I wish I had a strong answer to that, outside of making it policy to have a certain percentage of staff — especially if you’re reporting on issues like radicalism — just to give you that added insight into issues that are overrepresented in the media, but underrepresented in the staff.

Will “No Gangsters in Paradise” be an ongoing project? I know your memoir is coming out soon, is that the next project?
“No Gangsters in Paradise” was just its own thing, I can’t imagine we will be revisiting that. I’ve just written a story for The Monthly about this issue, that looks into the tactics that the police decided to use to specifically police the Western Suburbs. We all know it’s a predominantly Lebanese community, and that task force actually eventually renamed itself the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Task Force. It’s a long form, 10,000 word investigation into the policing practices of that specific task force — and then I think I’m done with those specific crimes and that story. It is important, but it is quite difficult work asking people to revisit the most traumatic experiences of their lives. So I think I’m going to just maybe pause from that and have a little break. Write my own memoir and things like that.

“It is important, but it is quite difficult work asking people to revisit the most traumatic experiences of their lives”

Do you have a message for the Australian public about why investing in quality journalism and quality reporting is important for our functioning as a society?
Without quality journalism, I believe we as a society are just going to be left with what we’re told, not what’s true. I think as soon as we give up what’s true to the powers that be, or just accept everything we’re told, our rights as people are going to erode very quickly.


Watch interviews with the winners of the 2020 Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism