Australia is diverse; our media should be too

Close your eyes and picture the typical TV news journalist. What do they look like? For most networks in Australia, the archetype leans towards Anglo-Australians, with most interviewed experts being older males. This is a far cry from Australian society where close to half the population were born overseas, or have overseas-born parents. If we are to better represent the many viewpoints and experiences of people who call this country home, we need more diversity in our media.

This was the main message of our most recent forum, an interactive showcase on ‘Diversity in the Media’. Hosted by Deloitte, our series of roundtables featured the following prominent speakers:

  • Antoinette Lattouf, Journalist, Network 10 Presenter and Co-Founder and Director of Media Diversity Australia

  • Osman Faruqi, Journalist, Deputy Editor of ABC Life

  • Natalie MacDonald, Journalist and News Editor at LinkedIn

  • Kevin Nguyen, Producer and Digital Forensics Reporter at ABC News

Here are four insights from the event:

1. Diverse representation combats blind spots

We had the pleasure of hearing Antoinette give an address before our roundtable sessions. “The problem with having news anchors who all have the same background,” she began, “is that they have the same blind spots”.

If our media lacks diversity, we will inevitably overlook perspectives that sit outside our own cultural experience. Alternatively, people from different cultures bring their own lived experience, language and community contacts, which leads to more nuanced reporting. One example is reporting on the same-sex marriage bill: Antoinette’s ethnicity allowed her to tap into perspectives held by people from migrant backgrounds that would ordinarily be ignored by mainstream media.

There are promising signs of change for the better. Media Diversity Australia has recently produced an Indigenous Reporting Handbook with in-kind support from ABC and in partnership with National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. While the Walkley Foundation now has a Media Diversity Australia Award, recently awarded to the ABC show You Can’t Ask That. Antoinette encouraged measured steps towards diversity to soften the ground and enable long-lasting change for the future.

2. Only a diverse media represents ‘real’ Australia

Osman shared a telling statistic: only 9 per cent of journalists in the ABC come from non-English speaking backgrounds while in our country’s population, the proportion is 26 per cent. While equal gender representation is on the radar, Osman believes we still have a long way to go when it comes to cultural diversity.

One positive initiative is ABC Life, launched last year to engage people of different backgrounds and ages, with a strong focus on multicultural viewpoints. “We want to represent the diversity of Australia in every story we tell, no matter what the subject matter,” says Osman.

Osman also highlighted the risk of journalists from ethnically diverse backgrounds being pigeon-holed as the ‘go to’ person on stories about race and religion (for example, having a Muslim background may mean you are sidelined for the Western Sydney beat or religion-based stories). Diversity means a wide range of viewpoints on all stories, whether to do with finance, business, the arts or current affairs.

3. Story-tellers must actively seek out diverse points of view

Natalie is part of the team that produces LinkedIn’s content for its News and Views section and the Daily Rundown. To ensure diverse representation, her team manually scan through the LinkedIn feed for different perspectives and looks to promote both male and female influencers from different backgrounds. Their focus is on diversity, so that members are “seeing themselves” in their news feeds and not hearing the same types of voices. The editors come from a position of neutrality, trying not to let their biases come into play.

Natalie encouraged D&I practitioners to upload and link to stories from diverse viewpoints – particularly women as it can be hard to find female voices. LinkedIn is keen to promote gender equality and diversity in news reporting. They want influencers to actively engage in conversations and bring unique perspectives to the platform.

4. Look for wealth of experiences rather than high-powered connections

Kevin shared his own experience as a digital forensics reporter with migrant parents from Vietnam. He believes that while most executives are on board with diversity, convincing middle management can be a challenge.

One area due for change is hiring practices. In the media industry, it’s common for prospective journalists to be asked about their ‘high powered’ connections in job interviews, creating a bias towards male candidates from high socio-economic, anglo backgrounds who attended major universities.

Instead, candidates could be asked questions like, ‘how has your background made you better at your job?’ or ‘what experiences have you been through, and what have you learnt from them?’ By changing the questions, you will not only get a more diverse pool of new hires, but also place value on the ability to turn hardship into learning experiences.

Thank you to our sponsor Deloitte for hosting this event.

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