‘Counting surnames on TV’ isn’t effective: TV networks respond to media diversity report

This week's report out of Media Diversity Australia was damning: TV networks have a diversity problem, especially when it comes to those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. But what do those media companies think about the report, and what are they doing to retain and attract diverse talent? Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby talks through each network's response, from Nine's concerns about methodology to the omission of NITV in the research.

The commercial networks and public broadcasters have responded to the notable piece of research, released this week, into TV companies’ lack of cultural diversity. While all TV companies have acknowledged that more work needs to be done to improve the industry’s diversity, Nine has been particularly vocal on its concerns around the methodology of the study, and said the research contains “clear errors”.

The report – produced by four universities in partnership with Media Diversity Australia, and funded by Google – found that every national news director in Australia is a white man, and 96.9% of those in the most senior news management roles have an Anglo-Celtic or European background.

More than 75% of presenters, commentators and reporters are Anglo-Celtic, while only 6% have an Indigenous or non-European background, the ‘Who gets to tell Australian stories?’ report revealed. And of the free-to-air networks’ 39 board members, only one, at SBS, has an Indigenous background, and three a non-European background.


The TV networks were invited to be interviewed as part of the research, which covered a number of newsroom policies. Nine does not believe compulsory quotas will work, which were addressed in the lengthy interviews – the final report did not recommend quotas, but rather targets – and wanted to be involved in the research process in a bigger way, particularly given the network’s reservations about the research’s methodology.

“We all acknowledge that diversity in all media [and] newsrooms – not just television – is a challenge both in Australia and globally,” said Nine’s director of news and current affairs, Darren Wick.

“However, I don’t think simply counting surnames on TV is an effective way of addressing the issue or helps in finding practical solutions to these challenges.

“This report has clear errors [and] ignores the significant contribution of someone like Brooke Boney on Today, where she is one of four main hosts on the desk, instead simply listing her daily and regular contribution on the program at somewhere between 0.1 and 0%.

“This is not reflective of the real changes and proactive appointments we have been making in improving diversity in our television business. The methodology of this report is flawed and it is disappointing that Media Diversity Australia chose not to involve the networks in the project’s research questions, methodology or in focusing it on solutions which provide greater pathways into the media.”

When asked how researchers approached cases like that of Gaby Rogers, a Nine News reporter whose surname is Anglo-Celtic, but whose background is Italian – her maiden name is Rossitto – researcher, associate professor Dimitria Groutsis, said: “We analysed 35,000 appearances by presenters, reporters and commentators as one part of our landmark research project. Where there were concerns of error there was a cross check undertaken between the researchers and research assistants. Furthermore, we erred on the side of caution and where in doubt counted for diversity.

“And of course if networks wish to refute our data, which the majority haven’t as the problem is so acute — we implore news leaders to undertake their own annual staff diversity audit and release it publicly as commercial and public broadcasters do in the UK and US.”

Last month, the Today Show and Nine dropped Pauline Hanson after she said residents in a public housing tower placed into lockdown due to COVID-19 were “drug addicts” and “alcoholics” who couldn’t speak English. Presenter and Indigenous woman Brooke Boney said, “I am so happy to see her gone. She says awful things about Aboriginal people too that really upset me,” while co-host Alison Langdon acknowledged that Hanson “crossed a line”.

In addition to the involvement of Boney on the Today Show, well-known women of colour at the network include Tracy Vo, a newsreader currently based out of Nine News Perth, and Sarah Abo, who is part of the 60 Minutes team.

Nine is part of a number of scholarship programs designed to get diverse young talent into its newsrooms, including last year’s summer scholarship in partnership with Media Diversity Australia, and a TV journalism scholarship for those from diverse backgrounds being lined up with Macquarie University, to launch next year.


“Seven West Media continues to focus on improving its gender and cultural diversity right across its workforce, both on and off the screen,” a spokesperson said.

“We acknowledge more progress needs to be made to better reflect the diversity of the Australian community and this remains a work in progress.”

The network is a founding member of the Screen Diversity Inclusion Network, and The Everyone Project, which will track the diversity of the local screen industry with results provided continuously.

Breakfast TV shows including Sunrise were analysed as part of the research

This week’s report states that Seven has no women working in news leadership roles, a figure that is disputed. Mumbrella understands women in such positions at Seven include: US bureau chief Ashlee Mullany, deputy news directors Emma Dallimore, and Lynne Scrivens.

Mumbrella also understands that Seven did not participate in the research interviews.

Seven, Sunrise host Samantha Armytage, and media personality Prue MacSween were recently threatened with Federal Court action by a group of Aboriginal Elders for “platform[ing] wealthy white women calling for a Stolen Generations 2.0”. Settlement negotiations regarding a racial discrimination complaint in the Australian Human Rights Commission collapsed, leading to the proposed court case.

In 2018, the Australian Communications and Media Authority found the segment on Indigenous adoption was inaccurate and provoked racial contempt. Seven criticised the ruling, and instigated court proceedings against the watchdog, before ultimately backing away from legal action.

Armytage denied calling for a second Stolen Generation and added: “Media reports about this have also mentioned another segment I did, back in 2015, about bi-racial twins … My words may have been clumsy but they were certainly NOT racist.” In the 2015 segment, she said: “The Aylmer twins come from a mixed-race family in the UK.

“Maria has taken after her half-Jamaican mum with dark skin, brown eyes and curly, dark hair but Lucy got her dad’s fair skin – good on her – along with straight red hair and blue eyes.”


Network Ten is the only media company included on the Diversity Council of Australia’s ‘Inclusive Employers’ list. Director of news content Ross Dagan said the business believes diversity extends beyond culture to other factors, including gender. The company’s boss, Beverley McGarvey, and more than half of the news leadership team are women.

Ten’s The Project

This year, 56% of promotions at Ten have been awarded to women, compared to 46.1% last year. It’s unclear whether the onset of COVID-19 has reduced the number of promotions this year.

“We are committed to diversity on and off-screen and have a number of initiatives in place to continue and grow diversity representation across our business,” Dagan said.

“We also believe that diversity goes beyond just ethnicity but also includes a balance of gender, age, geography, economic factors and physical ability.

“While we acknowledge that more needs to be done when it comes to diversity, we are working to ensure better representation on and off-screen across these categories. In the last year alone, we’ve launched three distinct university scholarships that better enable students from diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds to embark on a pathway into our newsrooms.

“We will continue to look for ways to ensure diverse representation across all our platforms.”

Ten talent includes the likes of Studio 10’s Narelda Jacobs, The Project’s Waleed Aly, and Masterchef’s Melissa Leong. Last week, it cut Kerry-Anne Kennerley as part of a sweeping round of redundancies, the Studio 10 host who said on moving the date of Australia Day: “It was a couple of hundred years ago. Get over it. Let’s just move on.”

Like Nine, Ten also participates in a number of scholarships, including the Walkley Young Indigenous Scholarship with Junkee Media and 10 News First, the Sandra Sully Scholarship in Journalism (preference is given to students who can demonstrate financial or other hardship), and the media mentorship program for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD), Indigenous, and low socioeconomic students at Macquarie University.


At SBS, 76.6% of reporters are non-European, only 0.7% Anglo-Celtic, and 0.2% Indigenous, according to the research. The broadcaster was pleased about this reinforcement of “SBS’s leading role in including and representing the diversity of Australia across our news and current affairs”.

But with regards to the lack of Indigenous representation, the business stressed that National Indigenous Television (NITV) was excluded from the study.

“[NITV] plays a critical role in ensuring First Nations people are front and centre of coverage exploring issues with an Indigenous lens, and bringing those stories to a wider audience,” it said in a statement.

“SBS has a proud tradition of developing the next generation of diverse talent, on and off-screen. We remain committed to continuing our work in supporting greater diversity in the sector.”

Recently, a number of Indigenous former staffers disclosed experiences of racism at SBS. Screenwriter Kodie Bedford said she suffered “micro-aggressions, forms of paternalism and racism” at the broadcaster 10 years ago: “We felt like the dopey blackfellas in the corner, ticking boxes.”

In response, SBS unveiled a range of diversity initiatives, including appointing two Indigenous Elders in residence to “provide support and cultural empowerment” and creating two new executive roles. Tanya Denning Orman, a Birri and Guugu Yimidhirr woman, is now director of Indigenous content, in addition to her existing responsibilities leading NITV. And Sarah Yassien has been promoted to director of corporate strategy.

The broadcaster will also create a voluntary register of staff with a range of lived experiences to sit in on job interviews to minimise unconscious bias. And a candidate development fund will provide each employee who is promoted with $10,000 to spend on professional development.

Promising talent from under-represented backgrounds will be identified through an Accelerated Development Program, and a number of ‘SBS inclusion champions’ will be identified and trained to engage in conflict resolution practices as an alternative to formal complaints and investigations. This step is designed to act as an additional choice between staying quiet and leaving if someone does not wish to go through the formal process.


The ABC acknowledged that, while 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”. A number of initiatives have been developed as a result, including diversity hiring guidelines.

“This is a practical tool all managers are expected to use when recruiting. Increasing diversity in our workforce will take time and an all of ABC News effort,” the business said in a statement. “It’s a cultural as well as a workforce shift.”

The ABC said the report’s findings “broadly reflect the results of our own tracking and show that, while we’re making good progress in how we reflect the diversity of the Australian community, we can certainly do better”.

“As the national broadcaster, the ABC has a responsibility to represent all Australians in our content and services and in our workforce,” it said in a statement.

“Ensuring we look and sound like contemporary Australia in all we do is central to our role. A broad range of perspectives, people and content makes us stronger, more creative and better able to engage with Australia’s many communities.”

As part of its diversity and inclusion plan, the public broadcaster has set itself a number of targets, including 15% of executives and 15% of content makers being from CALD backgrounds, and 3.6% of staffers being Indigenous, by 2022.

This year’s target is 10% and 11%, respectively, but as of last month, 2.9% of the workforce was Indigenous and 9.6% of content makers from CALD backgrounds. The executive team is 8.3% culturally diverse.

The ABC’s goals. Click to enlarge

In the past year, the ABC has launched an Indigenous recruitment strategy which will create 20 new roles, and partnered with First Languages Australia to offer Indigenous language lessons in order to embed those languages into reporting.

Two new employee groups have been set up: ABC Belong to focus on cultural diversity, and ABC Inclusive, focusing on employees with a disability. The broadcaster has launched training programs related to disability and LGBTQI+ awareness, and managing director David Anderson will host a number of staff forums aimed at getting feedback on how well the business is promoting diversity.

At ABC News specifically, diversity goals will be inserted into managers’ job plans, and training, internship and cadet programs will be “overhaul[ed”: “Retention of diverse staff is a critical issue.”

Indigenous staff at ABC News will now have access to a mentoring program, and the station will also look at who appears in its stories, and which stories they are. It noted that it has improved gender equality in talent chosen for stories – the 50:50 Project has seen 41% of talent in stories being women in April 2019, to 46% as at last month. “We want to get that to 50% by the end of the year.” The 50:50 Project is now drafting a methodology to track diversity in talent.


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