In 1979 when SBS TV launched, I remember sitting round the TV with my mum, dad and sister. I was so excited. I heard names that sounded like mine, people spoke with accents that sounded like Mum, Dad and my extended family. We could see part of ourselves represented in the images on the screen.
The launch of SBS came after the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and Australia’s multicultural policy agenda and ushered in the representation of different faces, names, accents and stories that were not previously mirrored in the Australian media. Yet, it was only in this slice of TV that I saw my face, my voice, people with names such as mine represented: the broader media failed me.
The mid-90s saw the stripping away of services and resources for the settlement and inclusion of newly arrived migrants. More insidious was the discourse that complemented this era: a lurch back to the White Australia Policy driven by Pauline Hanson.
It was also during these years that we also saw the rise of diversity and inclusion policies where the management of diversity was dealt with at the workplace level – a voluntary, soft touch approach to managing difference.
The impact of a damaging discourse and a voluntary buy-in from business to address diversity and inclusion has been laid bare in our pioneering report on cultural diversity in the media.
It’s with the past in mind that I worked on the Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories? report which provides a comprehensive map of how much work we have to do to mirror Australia’s population: in the stories presented, in the staff toiling to tell the stories on camera, off camera, and in leadership. The report places the spotlight on Australian television news and current affairs, examining the experience, inclusion and representation of cultural diversity. It is also the first forensic examination of how our media treats cultural diversity at the workplace level.
Our multi-method research investigation provides evidence of exclusion in the media sector in terms of what the view is consuming and what the talent pipeline and the senior leadership suite looks like in this sector. Our first data point included the examination of 19,000 news and current affairs items broadcast over a two-week period on free-to-air television. In terms of frequency of appearance, we found that more than 75 per cent of presenters, commentators and reporters have an Anglo-Celtic background and less than 6 per cent have an Indigenous or non-European background. While SBS was an outlier with 77 per cent of the presenters, commentators and reporters represented having a non-European background, Indigeneity was poorly represented across all networks.
Second, a voluntary survey completed by more than 300 television journalists examined their perceptions of cultural diversity at the workplace level. Survey results showed that more than 70 per cent rated the representation of culturally diverse men and women in the media industry either poorly or very poorly. In addition, almost 80 per cent of respondents with diverse backgrounds believed that being culturally diverse is a barrier to career progression. Third, we spoke with senior news and current affairs leaders from free-to-air networks. Our discussions raised a curious ambivalence to diversity and inclusion policies and interventions highlighting that the sector is still very much in its infancy when it comes to these discussions.
A staggering 100 per cent of free-to-air television national news directors in Australia are Anglo-Celtic men.
Finally, using publicly available information we mapped the cultural backgrounds of editorial leaders in television newsrooms, as well as the composition of television network boards. A staggering 100 per cent of free-to-air television national news directors in Australia are Anglo-Celtic men. The board members of Australian free-to-air television are also overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic. Within the group of 39 directors, there is only one who has an Indigenous background and three who have a non-European background.
In a nation where an estimated 58 per cent of Australians have an Anglo-Celtic background, 21 per cent have a non-European background, 18 per cent have a European background and 3 per cent have an Indigenous background, the evidence is compelling: Australian news and current affairs fails to mirror and include the diversity of our population in the stories they tell. Culturally diverse voices remain silent, faces remain hidden, names are from a limited roll call, accents are neglected. We need new markers of inclusion in the media to represent the multicultural landscape of Australia’s population and Australia’s stories.
Australian news and current affairs fails to mirror and include the diversity of our population in the stories they tell. Culturally diverse voices remain silent, faces remain hidden, names are from a limited roll call, accents are neglected.
We need to push forward the conversations on the benefits of cultural diversity at the workplace level as a driving force for change in the stories that are presented. The lived experience of difference brings with it a different lens to storytelling.
At present, our lens is skewed and blind to the kaleidoscope of multicultural diversity. Collecting data to map the landscape of our media sector is an important starting point. Such an evidence-basis will present an important springboard from which to jump start important interventions such as internships, mentoring and targets. We need to have powerful interventions to hear our stories, to hear our voices and to see our faces.
Dimitria Groutsis is an Associate Professor at Sydney University. Her research focuses on international labour migration and cultural diversity at the workplace level.