Australian TV News still lacking cultural diversity despite some progress

22 November 2022
Report lays out key lessons from overseas broadcasters
The second 'report card' on Indigenous and cultural diversity in Australian television news has revealed small pockets of progress but a long journey ahead, particularly for commercial stations.

Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis

Led by academics from the University of Sydney, in partnership with Media Diversity Australia (MDA) and the Jumbunna Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, the research provides insights into what has changed and what has stayed the same since the 2020 landmark report. It also offers suggestions on how to lead the charge toward greater diversity.

Given the latest census data revealed Australia is more diverse than ever, Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories? 2.0 examines the Indigenous and cultural diversity of Australian news and current affairs television media, and asks: “Does Australian news and current affairs represent the society they serve?”

“The short answer is no, it doesn’t even come close. However, there has been some progress in parts of the media and an opportunity for Australian newsrooms to leverage best practice and become world leaders. This will not only attract more viewers, but will also yield economic dividends,” said lead academic Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis from the University of Sydney Business School.

Non-European population vastly underrepresented

The researchers studied five data points to reveal how significant the need for change is.

Findings from a two-week survey of news and current affairs programming in June 2022 and an analysis of diversity of network boards and television news editorial leaders include:

  • The overall share of appearances on television by presenters and reporters of Anglo-Celtic background increased from 2019 to 2022. The Anglo-Celtic category remained vastly overrepresented on television, across all states and territories.
  • Nine is the only network to decrease its proportion of Anglo-Celtic on-air talent.
  • The share of appearances on television by presenters and reporters of Indigenous background improved overall but was inconsistent across networks.
  • Australia’s non-European (for example Asian, African, South American, Middle Eastern) population is at least 19 times greater than the representation on commercial networks, where it made up no more than 1.3 percent of on-air talent. The non-European category remained the most severely under-represented, particularly on commercial networks.
  • The ABC is the only network to show an increase in non-European on-air talent.
  • SBS remains the only network board to have representation of Indigenous, Anglo-Celtic, European and non-European members.

“Our findings show there is a significant way to go, with a serious need for media leaders to support meaningful, informed adjustments and strategic interventions to build a more representative industry,” Associate Professor Groutsis said.

Mixed attitudes and perceptions over representation

Dr Lee Martin

The research team surveyed the attitudes of journalists working in newsrooms, conducted interviews with regional newsroom leaders and polled a representative sample of Australian viewers about their views on representation in news and current affairs.

This round of research compared results from Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories? (2020) to evaluate progress and identify opportunities for improvement.

“Encouragingly, there has been a more positive response by staff to the perceived representation of Indigeneity and cultural diversity in the media industry overall from 2020 to 2022,” said Dr Lee Martin, a co-author of the report and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School.

“But there has also been an increase in perceived barriers to career progression for Indigenous and culturally diverse staff behind the camera.”

Lessons to learn from UK, New Zealand

Part three of the report provides an international comparison drawing on a literature review and an examination of what broadcasters abroad are doing to address the lack of diversity and inclusion, with clear recommendations on how newsrooms can, and should, do better.

“There are some lessons to be learned from the UK, where the regulator has mandated staff diversity metrics, and public broadcasters have diversity and inclusion plans and targets. Viacom CBS also launched a ‘No Diversity, No Commission’ policy across its UK network in 2020, requiring production companies to meet diversity targets,” Associate Professor Groutsis said.

“Also noteworthy are efforts by sections of New Zealand’s media which have acknowledged the impact previous reporting of Māori communities has had on racism and social cohesion. The New Zealand government’s funding of media outlets takes into consideration the importance of diversity, which is yet to be seen by Australia’s government.”

Read the full report here: Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories 2.0 (pdf, 7MB)

The report is authored by Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis, Dr Lee Martin, Professor Tim Soutphommasane, Professor Catharine Lumby, Joanne Crawford and Dr Adam Robertson from the University of Sydney, Antoinette Lattouf from Media Diversity Australia, and Professor Nareen Young from Jumbunna Institute of Education and Research at University of Technology Sydney.

Declaration: This research was supported by a University of Sydney Business School Industry Partnership Grant, Google News Lab, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Telum Media, and Isentia.

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