Culture

Diversity On Australian TV News Really Matters, Here’s Why

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The lack of diversity in Australia’s news media has been the focus of a lot of outrage over the past few months.

From Junkee exposing that ABC’s Insiders program hadn’t featured a person of colour on the panel in at least a decade, to a column from a former editor at SBS calling out the network for problems with structural racism.

Australian media is overwhelmingly white.

So, what are the biggest issues with mainstream media being so homogenous?

The statistics of diversity in Australian news are pretty unsettling.

This report was released this week. It found that more than 75% of presenters, commentators and reporters on TV in Australia are white with a British or Irish background. Only 6% of the people we see on TV news are either from a non-European background or Indigenous.

Dimitria Groutsis: “The level of maturity of diversity and inclusion particularly when it comes to cultural diversity in the media sector is really in its infancy which, to me is quite a shock.”

That’s Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis, she’s a researcher from the University of Sydney who worked on the report.

Her team interviewed the leaders of news organisations and they found that even their understanding of what diversity is, was really lagging behind.

DG: “We deliberately didn’t define what cultural diversity is when we spoke with our senior leaders. Many of them conflated this [cultural diversity] with having a global experience, having a global mindset – ‘oh everyone in the newsroom has worked overseas so they’ve got an understanding of cultural diversity’ – well that’s not an understanding of the lived experience of cultural diversity.”

The balance of ethnic backgrounds on TV really doesn’t reflect the Australian population. About a quarter of Australia is non-European or Indigenous and they’re just not being represented.

So, what’s the big deal if there isn’t a whole lot of ethnic or cultural diversity on the news?

Groutsis told me that it really impacts the quality of the storytelling that we’re getting.

DG: “The power of the lived experience in having an understanding of what needs to be told; the lens with which it needs to be told; the ingredients that go into making it a powerful story … it’s important to reflect the broader community and our broader community is clearly not reflected in the stories that are being told.”

The lack of cultural diversity can also clearly impact on the kind of opinions that are showcased when it comes to programs like panels and morning shows.

A prime example of this happened in 2018 when the Channel 7 breakfast show Sunrise hosted an all-white panel of commentators to discuss adoption of First Nations children and were slammed for making racist generalisations about First Nations communities.

DG: “One of the biggest benefits of having diversity is that there’s an alternative voice that challenges the other voice. And there’s a massive body of literature of the importance of that … We definitely need that alternative voice so that we can avoid those awful problems that emerge on these panels.”

But even beyond the consequences that this has for what we see on TV, there are some pretty simple ideas about equality in any sector that need to apply to media as well.

Groutsis told me that when younger people don’t see themselves represented on screen, they don’t bother to apply for those jobs.

And even for those non-European people who do have jobs in the media, 86% of them believe that coming from a culturally diverse background puts them at a disadvantage for getting ahead in their careers.

But the report also stressed that there are ways news organisations could make the effort to develop diverse talent and Groutsis said a lot of that will come down to reaching out to young journalists.

DG: “The talent pipeline is very much lacking in diversity. So, we need to bring in a more diverse suite when it comes to new recruits. We need to mentor the talent pipeline … We’ve got to have a broader conversation about what’s happening from a systemic perspective to create barriers for cultural diversity in the media sector.”

The Takeaway

The lack of cultural and ethnic diversity in Australian media is still pretty shocking, and mainstream media has been an overwhelmingly white industry for a really long time.

That really matters because it directly affects the kind of stories we see and the perspectives we’re getting from TV, which just aren’t reflecting Australia as a whole right now.