• Lee Lin Chin: SBS's first Gold Logie nominee. (SBS)Source: SBS
Australia has a problem with diversity on television. If we don’t see people from culturally diverse backgrounds working in certain professions, it makes it harder for us to think we can break through, says Osman Faruqi.
Osman Faruqi

6 Apr 2016 - 2:20 PM  UPDATED 8 Apr 2016 - 2:05 PM

Every morning when I wake up and open my eyes I’m quickly blinded. Not by the harshness of the morning Australian sun, but by the pure, unadulterated whiteness of breakfast television.

Channels ABC, Seven, Nine and Ten all have morning television shows that serve as a combination of news, celebrity gossip and light entertainment. But, despite the number Australians who are born overseas hitting a record high this year, not a single one of the hosts of these programs is from a racially diverse background.

There are more actors dressed in full bodied cow suits who randomly shower viewers with cash than people of colour on our breakfast television shows.

There’s no two ways about it: Australia has a problem with diversity on television.

We’ve all known about it for a while. Home and Away, a show set and filmed in Sydney, one of the most diverse cities in the world, features zero people of colour in its cast. All nightly news presenters on our commercial networks are white. The board’s and senior management teams of media companies are overwhelmingly white.

But this week we got another insight into just how completely out of touch senior figures in the Australian media industry are. Our most watched TV presenters and our most read newspapers collectively lost their mind at the fact that not just one, but two, well-known media identities from culturally diverse backgrounds were nominated for a Gold Logie.

There are more actors dressed in full bodied cow suits who randomly shower viewers with cash than people of colour on our breakfast television shows.

The Logies are the biggest award in the TV industry, with the Gold Logie is the most prized of them all. Decided by a popular vote, the winner is declared the greatest and most popular television personality of the year. It’s also only ever been won by white people.

This year Channel Ten’s Waleed Aly and SBS’ Lee Lin Chin were nominated, alongside perennial candidates like Scott Cam from The Block. And many sections of our media elite weren’t very happy.

The Daily Telegraph cited a number of anonymous TV insiders who declared the Logies an “embarrassment” and a “complete joke” now that Aly and Chin had been nominated. Many Australians would probably agree with the idea of the Logies being a joke, but not because two people of colour had finally managed to get nominated.

Earlier in the week, former Gold Logie award winner Karl Stefanovic “joked” his co-host, Lisa Wilkinson, had failed to win an award because she was “too white”. Wilkinson responded with “I got a spray tan and everything and still didn’t make it.”

There is no way that being “too white” is a barrier to success in Australian television. The fact that a group of white people can crack jokes about skin colour on morning television is a pretty clear testament to that fact.

The incident highlights the deeply problematic nature of “casual racism” across Australian society and reflected on our televisions. I’ve met and worked with Stefanovic. He was polite, genuine and charming. I don’t think he’s an overtly racist bloke likely to join a neo-Nazi rally or protest against a mosque. But his comments reflect a broader issue in the media industry and across society at large.

It sucks to be laughed at by people who are incredibly famous and highly respected.

Racism exists in Australia. Studies have regularly shown that having a non-Anglo name makes it harder to get a job. The lack of diversity on our TV screens and in our newspapers is another example of barriers faced by people of colour when trying to break into new industries. So when someone like Stefanovic, an incredibly popular, well-liked and established media figure makes jokes about skin colour, it matters. It comes across like he’s laughing at us from his position of comfort and privilege. When we already face structural barriers to succeeding in virtually all professions, simply because of our skin colour or our name, it actually sucks to be laughed at by people who are incredibly famous and highly respected.

The Daily Telegraph decided to follow up its “the Logies are an embarrassment because non-white people are nominated” with a piece devoted to arguing why Aly doesn’t deserve a Logie.

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The article makes no sense, but is another example of someone from a comfortable and privileged position throwing stones at one of the very, very few Australian Muslims to succeed in the entertainment industry. The author seriously argues that Aly should not win because “Australian TV has a diversity problem”. She thinks diversity needs to “become the norm” before someone with a “remarkable” background like Aly can win. It’s nonsensical and circular logic.

Aly has been nominated for his work on The Project, which a number of commentators have criticised as not being important or popular enough a show to deserve a Gold Logie. But guess who won the Gold Logie last year? Carrie Bickmore, for hosting … The Project! And she’s been nominated again for co-hosting the exact same show as Aly! Yet no one is making a fuss about her nomination now and no one wrote opinion pieces arguing she wasn’t serious enough to win back in 2015. The fact that they co-host the same show yet only one has been the subject of pointed attacks in the media makes it hard to argue that the problem, from the perspective of long-term TV insiders, isn’t one of race.

If we don’t see people like us working in certain professions, it makes it harder for us to think we can break through.

The only other nominee to cop criticism so far is SBS’ Lee Lin Chin. It’s the first time the multicultural broadcaster has ever had a Gold Logie nominee. TV industry figures are crying foul, claiming she’s only been nominated because of a social media campaign. Here’s the thing: every single network runs campaigns to help win Logies. Chin isn’t the first and she won’t be the last. Why has she been singled out?


Watch The Feed's: I stand with Lee Lin 


Chin’s media career stretches nearly 40 years. She’s been an SBS News presenter for more than two decades, acted in a TV series alongside Nicole Kidman, hosted her own program about fashion and also works on The Feed. She’s had an incredibly prolific career. Why is her nomination somehow invalid because she’s also popular on social media?

It’s difficult to understand how important it is for future generations of Australians from diverse backgrounds to have role models in the media. If we don’t see people like us working in certain professions, it makes it harder for us to think we can break through. Popular, smart and funny presenters like Chin and Aly serve as those role models and they’re still breaking new ground. People of colour are finally being acknowledged for their contribution to the media landscape but sadly they’ve had to cop hypocritical and nonsensical criticism.

The Australian media industry needs to fix its diversity problem. Full disclosure: I love SBS, but it can’t keep being the only broadcaster to regularly give people of colour opportunities to produce and present content on television. Audiences have spoken with their feet by voting in droves for Aly and Chin. Networks and producers should stop ignoring the casual racism prolific across the industry and actually encourage greater diversity at all levels.


Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @oz_f.


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