Karl Stefanovic under fire after comments on media diversity report

Source: The Today Show

The host of Channel Nine’s ‘Today Show’, Karl Stefanovic, has been criticised online after comments he made following a report detailing the lack of diversity on Australian television.

The report from Media Diversity Australia and several academics found that a staggering 75 per cent of on-air talent on news and current affairs programs are from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds.

Of the Australia’s largest television networks, the report found that Channel Nine had the least amount of diversity in its news offerings, with just 2.9% of on-air talent from non-European backgrounds.

Nine was followed by Channel 7, with 4.8 per cent of its broadcast news talent from a non-European background, whereas Channel 10 was the most diverse of the commercial networks with 3.2 per cent of its on-air staff in news programs from non-European backgrounds and 5.2 per cent identifying as Indigenous.

Of the public broadcasters, 9.1 per cent of ABC’s on-air news talent was non-European and 5 percent Indigenous, compared to SBS which had 76.6 percent of on-air news talent coming from non-European backgrounds and 0.2 percent Indigenous.

A story from news.com.au bluntly pointed out that cows were better represented on Channel 7 than people of colour and that “for every Waleed Aly, there are nine Karl Stefanovics.”

Replying to a tweet detailing the report, Stefanovic wrote: “I’m not sure how diverse you need to be to qualify for diverse but I’m of Yugoslav German and British heritage with a surname Stefanovic.”

"I used to be called a wog at school. I’m proud of my heritage. Im pretty sure it’s diverse and nine have always supported that,” he continued. 

The tweet ignited criticism from both the public and those within the Australian media industry.

“Karl, as someone with similar ancestry and a hard-to-pronounce surname who was also labelled a wog in school: we’re white. Australian media has a well-documented problem with diversity and this sort of reaction doesn’t help,” freelance journalist Seb Starcevic responded.

“I'm of Serbian background (both parents are Serbian), and am proud of my heritage. But we are white.  No one can look at us and tell we're "ethnic", and we haven't faced the challenges of being judged based on our skin tone. That's what the study is alluding to. It isn't about us,” another Twitter user wrote.

While Host of The Feed, Marc Fennell, replied: “Hey I think that’s a completely fair observation Karl which is why I suspect the report itself makes a crucial distinction between Anglo-Celtic & European.”

Others joked about Stefanovic’s defence of his ‘diverse’ heritage.

“Someone of British heritage on Australian TV... some of never thought we'd live to see the day,” one person wrote.

“Wow Karl. Someone should redo the report based on this startling revelation,” another person added.

But some leapt to Stefanovic’s defence, pointing out that The Today Show hired Indigenous journalist Brooke Boney, as an entertainment reporter on the program.

“I find Today show the least offensive, and at least your team has a First Nations journo and attempts to self correct culturally. I applaud your show, watch every day. As a First Nations grandmother - other channels need to use you guys as a guide towards change,” one person wrote.

While another person added: “there’s also other diversity between people besides skin colour & heritage.  Religious beliefs, political beliefs, family situations & people’s sexuality all are types of diversity.”

It comes after Channel Nine encountered heavy backlash after airing a heated segment with One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson in July. On air, Hanson labelled residents of Melbourne's public housing towers “drug addicts" and "alcoholics” before claiming they were unable to speak English.

The widespread fury over the segment resulted in Channel Nine dropping Hanson as a regular guest on the program, who’d been a popular commentator on both Sunrise and The Today Show for several years. 

Appearing on ABC’s Insiders, Boney, who grew up in public housing, said she was “completely heartbroken” by Hanson’s comments.

“I grew up in housing commission. To me, I was thinking about all of those kids sitting at home watching, all of those people trapped in their apartments, watching and thinking, ‘This is what Australia thinks of us. This is what the rest of our country thinks – is that we’re alcoholics and drug addicts’,” she said.

Boney said while she supports airing differing perspectives, she was “so happy” to see Hanson no longer on the show.

“I'm all for free speech, and I think that people, when they have different perspectives and different opinions, that most of the time it does help drive argument forward or debate forward,” she said.

“'But when you use it to vilify people, or to be deliberately mean and mean-spirited, it's... that, to me, is disgusting."