Meritocracy isn’t working to allow diverse talent to get jobs, argues Benjamin Law

Australia’s meritocracy system isn’t working in terms of allowing multicultural, diverse talent to rise to the top argued Benjamin Law, the creator and screenwriter of SBS’ The Family Law.

Speaking at today’s Mumbrella360, Law said: “In other countries like the UK, Canada and the US which have very similar, diverse make-up to us – and in some measures we’re even more diverse – they all employ really strong mechanisms to enforce or promote or foster diversity. In terms of those strategies in Australia they are almost nil.

“It’s one thing to say we want diversity on screen – that’s almost an uncontroversial thing to talk about. The really difficult conversation is going to be about how do you want to get it. That’s an uncomfortable thing, especially for Australians, to talk about.


Law: The meritocracy system isn’t working, what are we going to do instead?

“Australians are traditionally quite allergic to the idea of targets and quotas. If you’re not going to use that, then what are you going to use?

“The current model that we’ve been using which is – well, we live in a diverse society so judging by the meritocracy that we obviously have the talent will just find themselves there, magically. That’s the model we’re already using and it hasn’t worked. What are we going to do instead? I don’t have the answers but other countries do. ”

Law argued that “money is to be found” by representing diversity on screens more.

“In the US in the world of television you have shows like How to Get Away with Murder and Blackfish and these are the shows they’re developing for networks not out of some social or cultural utopian obligation but because there’s money to be found.

“What they’re realising is: as predominantly white American audiences are migrating to streaming channels that if you make shows on free-to-air channels that appeal to diverse audiences those are the audiences that are tending to stick with them, so they’re finding there is money to be made.”

Rowan Dean, ex-ad man and marketing columnist for the Australian Financial Review, argued that in the commercial world “you have to stand on your own two feet”.


Dean: The only way to make money is to attract advertisers

“The bottom line in terms of both advertising and the commercial media is your first and only responsibility is to your shareholders and your audience, they are two sides of the same coin.

“You cannot employ people and you cannot make the program if you are not making money. The only way to make money is to attract advertisers and the only way you’ll attract advertisers is with the quality of programs you put on that attract the audiences.”

Dean rejected the idea that commercial networks employ talent in an effort to be more diverse.

“The reason, for example, Waleed Aly is a Gold Logie winner and running The Project is not because he’s Muslim,” he said.

“He’s there because he’s charismatic, he’s funny, he’s talented, he’s opinionated – he’s all the things that show demand, he’s the best person for that show; and when they were looking for a new presenter they would, I hope, not have been going ‘we need someone to represent diversity’ but ‘we need someone to attract the audience’.”

“There’s one show on TV, which I love, is the most diverse show in terms of gender, race, disability – you name it; you could not cast a more diverse show. It’s on mainstream commercial television. As a metaphor and as a literal example of diversity, it’s The Voice.

“Why do I say it’s a metaphor? Because it starts off with the talent being selected without anyone being able to look at them.”


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