the first comprehensive picture of who tells, frames and produces stories in Australian television news and current affairs. It details the experience and the extent of inclusion and representation of culturally diverse news and current affairs presenters, commentators and reporters. It is also the first forensic examination of how our media treats cultural diversity at the workplace level.
Media Diversity Australia (MDA) is 'a not- for-profit nationwide organisation run by journalists and communications professionals who are working to make our news media more reflective of our culturally and linguistically diverse Australia'.
The report's purpose is to consider:
- Why is there an under-representation of cultural diversity in Australian television news and current affairs?
- Why does an under-representation of cultural diversity in our media matter?
- Who gets to report on, present and frame news and current affairs stories in Australia?
- How does a lack of cultural diversity affect the way news and current affairs is reported and framed?
- How do senior executives, journalists and producers value cultural diversity, including its impact on news content?
- What strategies are in place, if any, to improve cultural diversity in media organisations?
The authors comment
Based on three data sets and a series of qualitative interviews, we identified a distinctive gap in representation between those reporting Australia’s news and current affairs and the broader Australian population.
Firstly, we examined 81 news programs over two weeks in June 2019 (Appendix 1). This equalled approximately 19,000 news and current affairs items broadcast across free-to-air television. We categorised 270 presenters, commentators and reporters who presented news across Australia during the two-week period. Our study reveals that in terms of frequency of appearance on screen, more than 75% of presenters, commentators and reporters have an Anglo-Celtic background, while only 6% of presenters, commentators and reporters have either an Indigenous or non-European background. Secondly, in June 2020, more than 300 television journalists completed a survey examining their perception of cultural diversity. More than 70% of participants rated the representation of culturally diverse men and women in the media industry either poorly or very poorly. In addition, 77% of respondents with diverse backgrounds believe having a diverse cultural background is a barrier to career progression.
Third, using publicly available information we examined the cultural backgrounds of editorial leaders in television newsrooms, as well as the composition of television network boards. 100% of free-to-air television national news directors in Australia have an Anglo-Celtic background (and they are also all male). The board members of Australian free-to-air television are also overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic. Within this group of 39 directors, there is only one who has an Indigenous background and three who have a non-European background.
This is in a nation where an estimated 58% of Australians have an Anglo-Celtic background, 21% have a non-European background, 18% have a European background and 3% have an Indigenous background.
The final component of our study consisted of in-depth interviews with a range of senior news and current affairs leaders from all free-to-air networks. These interviews revealed varied levels of understanding of cultural diversity. Most leaders recognised that their outlet failed to reflect their audience, but there remains ambivalence towards having formal diversity and inclusion policies.
When compared with the news media in the US and UK, the Australian media lags on both the representation of diversity and on organisational responses to the issue.
It is clear that Australian television news and current affairs media does not represent all Australians and this affects the way stories are told and framed. It has been almost three decades since the 1991 National Inquiry into Racist Violence by the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission raised concerns about the lack of diversity in the media leading to inadequate representation of significant sections of the Australian public. The Inquiry recommended media organisations develop and implement policies to encourage the recruitment and advancement of Indigenous and non-English speaking journalists within the industry, noting that “the employment of more people from Aboriginal and non-English speaking backgrounds in the media industry generally would help to sensitise the media to issues of concern to these groups and contribute to more informed and more realistic reporting.”
Yet, there have been few attempts in the intervening decades to increase the representation and voice of cultural diversity in the media. Having more representative newsrooms requires a serious long-term commitment, leadership and a cultural change in news and current affairs. This should include the meaningful collection of data on cultural diversity among staff, the establishment of targets to increase cultural diversity in the talent pipeline and the senior management suite as well as recognition of both the civic and economic benefits of a more culturally diverse media.
This research project, initiated by the not-for-profit group Media Diversity Australia (MDA), is the first in-depth study of the level of cultural diversity in Australian broadcast television news and current affairs.
Television is a visual medium – one that literally shows us who we are and represents us as people and a nation. News and current affairs purports to identify and tell key stories about issues of importance to all Australians. Yet, as this report shows, those stories have been reported, selected and produced by an overwhelmingly Anglo-Celtic workforce.
Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories? presents data and perspectives on cultural diversity in Australian free-to-air news and current affairs television. It establishes a baseline for future comparison. It offers a rationale for why cultural diversity matters on both economic and social levels and makes recommendations on how networks can improve their cultural diversity.
Our work extends the Leading for Change research published in 2016 and 2018 by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which challenged Australians “to do better in making the most of the talents in our multicultural nation”. It noted that Australia does not collect comprehensive data on cultural diversity within its organisations and institutions.
The Leading for Change reports highlighted the lack of cultural diversity within senior leadership across Australian business, politics, government and our universities. It is therefore vital that independent research is conducted to benchmark the state of play in other institutions, including our media which is our Fourth Estate and critical to the health of Australia’s democracy. Previous research has shown that Australia lags severely behind other similar nations when it comes to people of cultural and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds being represented in the media. Cultural institutions also fare poorly: a Diversity Arts Australia study (2019) found that the arts and cultural sectors also had poor representation of CALD communities.
A lack of cultural and geographic diversity in the Australian media workforce was identified in PwC’s Who’s the fairest of them all? study (2016). It found that 82.7% of the Australian entertainment and media workforce were monolingual, speaking only English at home, and that 37% of the workforce lived in Sydney, with the second highest concentration living in Melbourne.
Who we see on television is meant to be a mirror of who we are: from the anchors to those reporting the news. Just as important is who selects the stories we see: those ‘behind the camera’ making decisions, prioritising stories and framing the narratives that tell those stories. The Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories? project proceeds from the premise that a culturally diverse media workforce is a stronger workforce. As McKinsey highlighted in its Diversity wins - How inclusion matters report (2020), there are clear and multiple benefits of diversity, and of getting inclusion right. For the news industry in Australia, a culturally diverse workforce would help ensure that all Australians feel represented in the way stories are sourced, told and prioritised. It would enable the telling of a broader range of stories, with greater relevance to our increasingly diverse audiences.
Our findings indicate that we have an extraordinarily long way to go in addressing that challenge.