Male, pale and stale: Media's lack of diversity is causing a disconnect with audiences

As early as 1991, a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission raised concerns about the lack of diversity in Australia’s media, leading to inadequate representation of significant sections of the Australian public. The recommendations included the recruitment and advancement of Indigenous and non-English background journalists to sensitise the media to issues of concern to these groups and contribute to more informed and realistic reporting.

Three decades on, and new research by Macquarie University, Deakin University, Sydney University and Western Sydney University in partnership with Media Diversity Australia (MDA) has confirmed little movement has been made in the representation and voice of cultural diversity in Australia’s media.

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The report was three years in the making, and launched yesterday

The report’s key findings include:

  • 100% of free to air’s national news directors in Australia are men of an Anglo-Celtic background
  • 77% of those with CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) backgrounds believe their backgrounds are a barrier to career progression
  • More than 75% of presenters, commentators, and reporters on screen in news and current affairs broadcasts have an Anglo Celtic background, while only 6% have Indigenous or non-European background.
  • More than 70% of television journalists rate the representation of culturally diverse men and women in the media industry poorly or very poorly.

Ouch.

Australia is among the most multicultural nations on the planet, with half of us either born overseas or with at least one parent born overseas according to our latest census. As a migrant myself, it breaks my heart to see that our media lacks cultural and linguistic diversity, from leadership teams to who is on camera. There is a gap in representation between those reporting Australia’s news and current affairs and the broader Australian population.

Our media is undeniably male, pale, and stale, as networks continue to feature panels of white men (often with little diversity experience) speaking on issues that impact our very multicultural and diverse nation.

And why does this matter?

When you are in the majority, it is very difficult to see the world through the eyes of a minority. Stereotyping is rampant and the lack of cultural diversity in media is causing a disconnect with the audiences who are watching.

For example, recently I was watching the news (I won’t mention which channel) and found that 75% of the news was about sports – a topic which really resonates with white men, but perhaps not so much with other audiences.

Multicultural audiences are fond of news and entertainment but very often they fall back on their own community news and information because they cannot relate and do not feel like they are represented well enough.

A lack of diversity impacts the way stories are told and framed. Coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement has made this very apparent to me – including Indigenous stories.

Unless we see changes, our media will only become further disconnected from an audience whose engagement is already waning.

More television networks should be developing business cases around diversity. Fortunately, we are seeing a shift towards increased cultural diversity happening in marketing strategies in Australia, although we still have a long way to go.

I do want marketers to think beyond diverse representation when creating an ad. Some questions that they need to be asked include:

  • Are advertising dollars directed at channels that only reflect one segment of the Australian audience?
  • Does this one-size-fits-all strategy followed by marketers truly reflect their brand’s diversity vision?

The good news is that positive changes are increasingly evident in advertising, which is helping to break down stereotypes.

Increasingly, more people from diverse backgrounds are appearing in television advertisements, with businesses clearly wanting to target a broader range of people. So, let diverse and multicultural Australians get to work in media!

In 2020, McKinsey research confirmed that companies with both ethnic and cultural diversity and gender diversity in corporate leadership are outperforming non-diverse companies on profitability. They found ‘The most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform non-diverse companies on profitability’.

A culturally diverse workforce in the media industry 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.

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Sheba Nandkeolyar is CEO of multicultural marketing agency Multiconnexions and an advisory board member for Media Diversity Australia