A landmark study of television news and current affairs has found that presenters, commentators and reporters on Australian television are overwhelmingly of an Anglo-Celtic background.
In terms of the number of appearances during the survey period, almost 76 per cent of those on Australian screens were found to have an Anglo-Celtic background.
Just 6 per cent were from an Indigenous or non-European background, despite the fact that these groups account for about a quarter of the Australian population.
The other 18 per cent was made up of those with a European background other than Anglo-Celtic.
Survey data from 300 television journalists found that 77 per cent of respondents from diverse backgrounds felt having a diverse background was a barrier to career progression.
The report, initiated by the non-profit Media Diversity Australia, says it is the first in-depth study of cultural diversity in Australian television news.
And it concludes the industry has an “extraordinarily long way to go” in boosting representation of people from diverse backgrounds.
Madeline Hayman-Reber is a freelance journalist and Gomeroi woman, who previously worked for NITV News.
“Many news organisations don’t take Indigenous affairs seriously, seemingly putting our issues in the ‘too hard basket’,” she told the ABC.
“Every single newsroom in the country should have an Indigenous affairs correspondent position, filled by an Indigenous journalist.”
The report found that while the ABC and SBS charters require them to measure and report on cultural diversity, commercial networks do not.
“Increasing cultural diversity must start at the highest levels of the organisation,” it said, citing research by the consultancy firm McKinsey that found businesses that prioritise diversity are more profitable.
The report said compared to news media in the US and UK, “the Australian media lags on both the representation of diversity and on organisational responses to the issue”.
Deborah Williams is the CEO of the Creative Diversity Network UK, an organisation focused on improving diversity across the UK’s television industry.
She told ABC radio last year that diversity on Australian screens was “where the UK was like 20 years ago”.
“That’s not a bad thing. There’s still more work to be done … [but] there’s a determination to grow and progress.”
Senior management overwhelmingly white, male
The report found the boards of the ABC, Seven and Nine all have “overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic representation”, although the ABC’s board is 67 per cent female.
The report found SBS had the “most gender- and culturally diverse” board, with an even gender split and the only Indigenous board member across the networks.
“Media organisations must place more Aboriginal people, especially women, on their boards and in high-level editorial positions to promote positive, inclusive, and culturally safe workplaces,” Hayman-Reber said.
“It is shameful that there is just one Indigenous person in such a position in our entire industry.”
In a statement, the ABC said it welcomes the release of the report, saying that its findings “broadly reflect the results of our own tracking”.
“As the national broadcaster, the ABC has a responsibility to represent all Australians in our content and services and in our workforce,” the statement said.
“Although ABC News performs well in the report compared to the overall television sector, we know we have significant work to do to live up to the goals we have set for ourselves.
“We’re taking steps to ensure the make-up of the News team is more diverse as well as to increase diversity in our stories to better reflect the community.”
The ABC has set the goal of having 15 per cent of its content-maker and executive roles filled by culturally and linguistically diverse employees by August 2022.
It also aims to have 3.4 per cent of its workforce be Indigenous, 8 per cent of employees be people with disabilities, and half of all executive roles held by women.
“There’s still so much room for improvement when it comes to editorial decisions, reporting and making sure we have a range of stories told about who we are as a country,” Janak Rogers, a journalism lecturer at RMIT, wrote last week.
“That hasn’t been done well so far in Australia and cannot be done well while the media is largely dominated by white men.”