EXCLUSIVE: THE BAGRAT STORY
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
“When you think of music, there are so many genres. When you talk about Asia in Australia, the media is only one type, which is equivalent to classical music. We like to think that we (Captain Bagrat Media Production) are bringing a little EDM into the mix.”
What started as a grassroot passion project turned into something much more for JJ Chen. In November 2019, Chen created her own media company, Captain Bagrat Media Production (CBMP) and launched a podcast revolving around Asian-Australian news.
”The name Captain Bagrat came from a friend. We did a poll where we had names for a show. People threw in some ideas, and then one of our friends said, “Why don’t you call it Bagrat?”
“She spoke perfect Chinese even though she’s a white-Australian. If you get the word kangaroo and translate it into Chinese, you get the word dàishǔ. And, when you translate dàishǔ back into English, it becomes bagrat.”
The Birth of Bagrat
JJ originally owned a bar before founding CBMP, where she had met Dr Helen Vatsikopoulos, who became her mentor. Helen is a Walkley Award winning journalist who has 30 years of experience working for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Australia Network, and for the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).
“We’re supported by the wonderful Dr Helen Vatsikopoulos. She has been guiding us in a way that there is space for a different voice to represent the youth (18-35 years old) from diverse perspectives and categories.”
“It’s great having someone to back me up since I don’t come from the media background. She saw potential in what we were trying to do, because she saw that there was a gap in the media,” Chen smiles with appreciation.
“I think we bring in things that don’t get covered in mainstream media.”
Chen said that she was fortunate enough to meet like-minded people who shared her vision. One of these people is Liam Frappell, who was the first guest on the Captain Bagrat podcast and eventually became a permanent co-host.
JJ Chen and Liam Frappell with Captain Bagrat (Image: Eunice Cruz)
I had the pleasure of witnessing Chen and Frappell’s chemistry in person, recalling how they had first met.
“My version of the story...” Frappell paused, in thought, “We met at Haymarket HQ Start-up Hub in Chinatown, above a karaoke bar. It’s an Asian-focused start-up hub. I think we just got chatting and JJ was doing some podcasting."
“I wasn’t the only co-host at the time, but I was the one who stayed for the long haul. We had this idea to do interesting news from Asia and Australia, where we would find the weirdest, wackiest news from any parts of Asia,” he laughs.
Chen and Frappell consider themselves to be a well-rounded, balanced team to deliver the Captain Bagrat podcast, with the co-hosts coming from very different backgrounds.
“Liam has a tech-background and he also learnt Chinese. He’s lived in China, so he knows more about Chinese culture in some aspects than I do, because of the people that he’s met. Whereas, I have a business background, worked in the public service, NGO, and other creative sides. I’m also fluent in bogan Australian, very well compared to Liam,” she says in a joking manner.
Chen continues on saying, “We started talking about building something up from here which will address the Asia aspect and Australia, in a more informal way, without being in your face or being explicit. That’s when we realised that we should be doing some Asian news that was not already in the media sphere.”
Striving for more diversity in the media
The Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories report (2020) observed the level of cultural diversity in Australian broadcast television news and current affairs. The media diversity report stated that more than 70% of participants rated the representation of culturally diverse men and women in the media industry either poorly or very poorly.
“They (Asian-Australians) need to be represented. I think, as you’ve seen in the current situation in Australia, people have said that there a lot of white men who have been dominating the space in a lot of industries. I think now is a good time where a lot of people are noting that females have voices and noting that Asians have voices as well,” Chen says.
“I think the media is very bipolar. You’re either a very white Australian or you’re an Asian, and you're bunched together.”
“We’re trying to address that standard deviation, that we’re not the edges, we’re the middle. This is the mainstream that needs to be covered, and it’s not being covered. That’s not being done.”
Frappell also added, “At the end of the day, nearly everyone in Australia came here on a boat. More and more people from Asia are coming to Australia. In 10 or 20 years in the future, is it still going to be mainly white media? Potentially, but I hope not. That’s not the kind of future that we want, and that’s kind of why we do this.”
Raelene Patiag is a student at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) who was approached by correspondents from CBMP for a vox pop.
Raelene Patiag being interviewed for a vox pop (Image: YouTube)
“After the interview, I think I was more intrigued to look into the podcast. I was already consuming material that’s very similar, like podcasts following the K-pop scene. So, it really fell into my interests. Most of the podcasts I currently listen to focus on Asian-Americans because there isn’t that many media outlets exploring Asia and Asian-Australians specifically.
“But shouldn’t the material and the media you consume reflect who’s watching it? The news is catered to everyone in Australia, but if you think about who lives in Australia, it’s more diverse than just white people.”
“That’s why I think the (Captain Bagrat) podcast is good for young Asian-Australians like me to feel represented in some way. I think most Asian-Australians would prefer watching someone that they can relate to on TV,” Patiag says.
The media diversity report stated that 77% of respondents with diverse backgrounds believe having a diverse cultural background is a barrier to career progression.
“I think sometimes when you’re working in a very white, Eurocentric area, they generally like to hire white people as well, because that’s who they think they’re selling majority of their products to. And sometimes they have a stereotype that we (Asians) can’t talk English,” she says with a sigh.
“But for the most part, in the areas I’m in, I think I’m very fortunate enough to not have to experienced that since the area I live in is very diverse.”
The report also revealed that more than 75% of presenters, commentators and reporters have an Anglo-Celtic background, while only 6% of presenters, commentators and reporters have either an Indigenous or non-European background.
JJ Chen said that while she never felt discouraged to get into the media industry she thinks that this mainly is because she had met supportive people along the way.
JJ Chen and CBMP's creative producer, Mayu Iwasaki with Captain Bagrat in the recording studio. (Image: Supplied, JJ Chen)
“I’m not going to lie, I think the severity of what other people have felt or experienced is a lot more compared to me. I have felt and experienced it (discrimination) throughout my life. I always try to rise above it and call it out. If I do see it, I will bring it up and have a conversation about it in an objective way.”
While CBMP does touch on current issues around Asian-Australians, it also focuses on delivering news that is less serious and more fun.
“I think right now, it’s good to spread more positive news. It’s been really hard for Asians lately, because of COVID-19 last year and the Asian hate that is happening at the moment,” Patiag says.
“Having more light-hearted news that discusses Asian-Australians can be good for young Asians to share common interests or even educate people who aren’t Asian about our culture.”
Chen holds Captain Bagrat upright, who is seated on her lap, “When it comes to this particular media project, we thought that it needed to be light-hearted. There’s nothing out there at the moment that is light-hearted which touches on both cultures, that is able to bring it together in a positive way.”
Eunice Cruz is a Filipino-Australian currently in her second year of Journalism and International Studies (China Major) at the University of Technology Sydney. She is always eager to learn more about other Asian cultures and is particularly interested in Korean language and culture. She has a strong passion for food, beauty and make-up. She also has a keen interest in investigative journalism and is events director of UTS Journalism Society.