Despite almost a quarter of Australians coming from an Indigenous or non-European background, every national news director in Australia is a white man, and 96.9% of those in the most senior news management roles have an Anglo-Celtic or European background, according to new research.
More than 75% of presenters, commentators and reporters are Anglo-Celtic, while only 6% have an Indigenous or non-European background, according to the report. And of the free to air networks’ 39 board members, only one at SBS has an Indigenous background, and three a non-European background.
The research – conducted by Macquarie University, Deakin University, University of Sydney, and Western Sydney University in partnership with Media Diversity Australia (MDA) – also dug into the cultural makeup of each TV network.
Nine was the worst-performing, with 87.8% Anglo-Celtic and just 2.9% non-European presenters, commentators, and reporters. Its Indigenous headcount is listed at 0%, despite Indigenous woman Brooke Boney presenting for the Today Show.
Ten’s breakdown is listed as 67.1% Anglo-Celtic, and 8.6% non-European or Indigenous. And Seven has only 4.8% of presenters, commentators or reporters who are non-European. 72% of people in those positions at the network are recorded as being Anglo-Celtic, and zero Indigenous people.
The public broadcasters fared better, with 14.1% of the ABC’s reporter headcount coming from non-European or Indigenous backgrounds. And just 0.7% at SBS are Anglo-Celtic; 76.6% are non-European, but only 0.2% Indigenous.
“One of the most concerning findings is that on all regional news networks, there were no Indigenous presenters, commentators or reporters identified in our two-week slice,” the report read.
“There were also none identified on Channel 7, and only one on Channel 9 and 10. Even at SBS, Indigenous presenters, commentators or reporters comprised only 0.2% of our sample.
“Our analysis also showed that television news and current affairs programs were not presented by anyone from non-European or Indigenous backgrounds in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania.”
The figures contained within the research are based on a study of the free to air networks in the first two weeks of June last year, which captured 81 different news programs across all time slots.
Specific attention was given to breakfast TV in the report because “such shows are often the progenitors of wider social debates about issues concerning those groups”. But “it is arguable that cultural diversity is rendered more or less invisible in this aspect of the daily news agenda”.
On Studio 10, every presenter, commentator, and reporter is recorded as Anglo-Celtic or European. Narelda Jacobs has been part of the program since the start of the year, but the sample period was from last year, she wasn’t captured.
The Today Show’s line up features just 0.2% of people who are non-European or Indigenous. And Sunrise has 7% non-European and 0% Indigenous journalists.
The report follows a number of media companies reckoning with a lack of cultural diversity. ABC’s Insiders admitted it “need[s] to do better” after an investigation by Junkee’s Rob Stott found that the program hadn’t featured a person of colour for at least a decade.
That shows that networks still don’t see the obvious opportunity in diversity. At any network upfront they’ll tout “innovation” from start to finish but demonstrate one metric by which they’re identical to their competitors and all of a sudden “innovation” isn’t so important.
— Adam Liaw (@adamliaw) August 17, 2020
Last month, SBS unveiled a range of diversity measures, including appointing two Indigenous elders in residence, after multiple Indigenous staffers disclosed experiences of racism at the broadcaster and an open letter was circulated. Almost 70 journalists at The Age also signed a letter sent to Nine executives after the newspaper apologised for two stories that made an unsubstantiated allegation that Black Lives Matter protesters were planning to spit on police, and incorrectly claimed Australia does not have a history of slavery, respectively. The masthead’s editor, Alex Lavelle, exited soon thereafter.
Seven West Media apologised for an ‘abhorrent[ly]’ racist cartoon that mistakenly appeared in The West Australian and included racial slurs.
And News Corp published a column which said “the greatest danger to aboriginals and n*groes is themselves”. In recent days, it has also stood by a Johannes Leak cartoon widely denounced as racist for calling US vice presidential candidate a “little brown girl”.
“We continue to see all white panels who are there to comment on issues impacting our very multicultural nation — on both commercial TV and the ABC,” MDA chair Isabel Lo said.
“Unless we see change in both the composition of leadership teams and talent on screen — our media will remain disconnected from audiences whose engagement is already waning.”
The ‘Who gets to tell Australian stories?’ report is the first analysis of “who tells, frames and produces stories in Australian television news and current affairs”. As part of the three year study, 300 TV journalists voluntarily participated in a survey, more than 70% of whom rated the representation of culturally linguistic people in media as either poor or very poor.
And 77% of culturally diverse respondents said their backgrounds are a barrier to career progress.
“It is abundantly clear that Australian television news and current affairs media doesn’t reflect its audience and this has a flow on effect as to which stories are covered and how they are framed and told,” said MDA’s director and senior journalist Antoinette Lattouf.
Catharine Lumby, from Macquarie University’s department of media, music, communication, and cultural studies, added that in interviews with network executives, published anonymously, “most recognised that their outlet failed to reflect their audience, but there remains some ambivalence towards having formal diversity and inclusion policies”.
“Based on three data sets and a series of interviews, we identified a distinctive gap in representation between those reporting Australia’s news and current affairs and the broader Australian population,” Lumby said.
The research also highlighted the lack of women in leadership roles: 0% at Seven, 14% at Nine, 43% at Ten, 43% at the ABC, and 50% at SBS. However, none of the women in those positions are women of colour.
Thanks for being interested in our research Karl and the Iseue of representation in TV news You were counted in the data as having a European background. https://t.co/5yd7k1v2zM
— Media Diversity AU (@MediaDiverseAU) August 16, 2020
Today Show host Karl Stefanovic took issue with his network, Nine, being called out for its diversity issues.
“I used to be called a wog at school. I’m proud of my heritage,” he tweeted.
“Im [sic] pretty sure it’s diverse and nine have always supported that.”
Media Diversity Australia responded: “You were counted in the data as having a European background.”
The research – which was funded by Google News Lab and the industry’s union, and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), with support from Telum Media and Isentia – made a number of recommendations, including for TV networks to collect data on cultural diversity, establish targets to increase cultural diversity, and prioritise diversity in recruitment and promotion.
“If not for the existence of SBS/NITV, these figures would be even worse,” said MEAA’s Marcus Strom.
“Australian television networks are seriously letting down their audiences by not having more diverse talent on screen. This results in reporting about sensitive issues involving race and religion being filtered through a single, white Anglo-Saxon perspective, consciously or unconsciously reinforcing misunderstandings, stereotypes and prejudices.”
Lumby added that increasing diversity in newsrooms is also good business, saying: “There’s no doubt the traditional business model of free-to-air television is struggling. That’s due to a range of factors.
“But in an online and streaming media environment where the competition for viewers is more intense than ever having more diverse staff means a greater capacity to speak to and grab the attention of diverse audiences. It makes good business sense.”