The ABC and diversity criticism – it's not all black and white

Amanda Meade
·7-min read

It didn’t take long after the ABC unveiled its 2021 TV slate at a virtual event hosted by comedian Wil Anderson before it was being slammed on social media for having an all-white line-up.

Former ABC staff including radio host Sami Shah, ABC Life’s Osman Faruqi and former Four Corners reporter Sophie McNeill – who have all been critical of the ABC on diversity – shared a montage of nine pics of ABC stars across news and entertainment, including Leigh Sales, Shaun Micallef, Paul Barry, Annabel Crabb, Michael Rowland, Lisa Millar and Julia Baird.

“Do the people who run ABC News not understand how weird this looks?” Faruqi asked. “At some point, when you’re assembling these photos, you’d pause and think ‘Hmm something not quite right here’ … they shouldn’t be able get away with it. But who is going to hold them to ­account? Everywhere else is even whiter.”

News.com.au reported the ABC was “under fire from ex-staff after presenting an all-white line-up of presenters”.

Related: Google and Facebook news payments to include ABC and SBS after change to draft code

But some of the criticism was not fair. The all-white montage was not assembled by a tone deaf member of the social media team. Someone outside the organisation selected the white faces and put them in one image.

ABC Communications came back with a series of tweets. The first featured news presenters Stan Grant, Patricia Karvelas, Miriam Corowa, Karina Carvalho, David Chau, Fauziah Ibrahim and Mariam Saab.

The ABC’s 2021 diverse line-up of shows, featured in another tweet, included Wakefield, Love on the Spectrum and Mikki vs The World. The slate “reflects our commitment to representing and reflecting modern Australia, across diverse backgrounds, ages, genders, abilities and cultures,” the ABC said later. “There’s no doubt that, like all media organisations, the ABC has significant work to do to live up to our goal to reflect the full diversity of our community. But we are making progress.”

Anyone who watches the ABC news channel or bulletins knows the line-up is now quite diverse, with Jeremy Fernandez, Chau, Corowa and Ibrahim familiar faces. But there is no getting away from the fact that the flagship current affairs shows are all white-hosted: Insiders, 7.30, News Breakfast, The Drum and Q+A – and they are the ones people notice.

Late change not forecast

Nine’s Gold Coast weather presenter Luke Bradnam was live on air when he noticed out of the corner of his eye that his ute parked nearby was reversing, and immediately thought his mates were pranking him.

“I’m taking off my ear piece and I can see my car being reversed up,” he told Nine News.

He took out his mobile phone and filmed the car speeding off. Three teenagers have now been charged with unlawful use of a motor vehicle, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and unlicensed driving.

AAP appeal

The 11th hour addition of the public broadcasters to Australia’s mandatory news code has given hope to AAP, the struggling newswire that may find itself the only media company excluded from receiving payments from Google and Facebook.

If the ABC does get additional revenue from the digital giants when the code becomes law, it would be invested in “public interest journalism at the local and regional level”, according to the ABC’s submission to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission.

The ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, told Weekly Beast people living outside capital cities stood to benefit from the ABC’s inclusion in the mandatory code.

“The ABC has committed to reinvest any additional revenues derived from negotiations under the mandatory code directly into regional journalism,” he said.

“This potentially will provide a major boost to coverage of regional and rural Australia, telling local stories and celebrating unique Australian stories. This is particularly important at a time when there has been a diminution and withdrawal of some local media.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who refused to support the code unless the ABC and the SBS were included, called on the government to fund AAP as well.

“If the aim of this code is to ensure the viability of Australia’s media, then not only was it vital ABC and SBS were included but it’s also important AAP doesn’t fail, and small and independent publishers don’t miss out.”

Super sub

Although the government gave AAP a $5m lifeline in September, the vital service is facing major competition from News Corp, which has set up its own service, NCA Newswire. So far it is in-house only, but it will be able to approach AAP customers from January, when its non-compete clause ends.

AAP customers used to sign up for three years, giving it financial stability, but some media clients are now signing for only three months.

To get around its financial woes the company has asked the government to take out a “super subscription” to the wire for monitoring purposes, giving it access to the newswire and AAP’s image library, and allowing it to be used as a distribution centre for all government announcements, a funding model which has worked in the UK, Austria and France.

Afternoon edition

It’s been decades since we’ve seen a major metropolitan afternoon paper distributed on the streets of our major cities. Fairfax’s Sun and News Corp’s Mirror were closed in 1988 and 1990, respectively.

But on Thursday afternoon 100,000 copies of the Courier-Mail, the Advertiser, the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph hit the streets with a special 24-page edition.

The edition was a marketing ploy to promote Black Friday sales and included 17 full page advertisements, so probably not a collector’s edition.

News Corp’s managing director of sales, Lou Barrett, told Mediaweek the campaign capitalised on the success of print circulation during Covid.

“The special editions will feature gift guides, mega wraps, reader offers and discounts to be activated in-store or online from retailers,” Barrett said.

Ita’s target

Ita Buttrose took aim at the ABC’s critics this week, in a speech recorded for the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

And she didn’t miss. “Some of the ground-breaking journalism the ABC has produced, on issues such as live cattle exports and the greyhound industry, have been singled out by our critics as proof that ABC journalists run agendas and campaign against private enterprise,” Buttrose said. “What malicious garbage.”

So which critic said those investigations were agenda-driven?

We recognised him immediately because he is like a broken record. Here is Chris Kenny in June: “With highly dubious journalism built around footage supplied by animal rights activists, the ABC has tried to destroy industries such as the live cattle export industry, live sheep trade, greyhound racing and horse racing.”

In this case Buttrose was responding to a Sky News video from Kenny in which he said Australia needed a royal commission – not into his employer but into whether it needed a public broadcaster. Kenny said the ABC presenter Patricia Karvelas, a former News employee who should know the conspiracy theories are garbage, gave a platform to Kevin Rudd to campaign for a royal commission.

As Buttrose said in her fiery speech: “Since when was exposing the rot deemed wrong?”