The Weekend Mumbo: Australian media isn’t ready for The Voice debate

Welcome to The Weekend Mumbo.

It is a bittersweet one for me as this is the very last time I will write for Mumbrella. More on that later though…

The critics have won this round with prominent and celebrated broadcaster Stan Grant taking himself off air a week ago before offering a passionate and inspiring Q&A sign-off speech this Monday.

Arguably this all kicked off when Grant criticised the “entire white panel” on the ABC’s New South Wales state election coverage in March, with director of news Justin Stevens later admitting the broadcaster still has a “way to go” in diverse representation. 

ABC staff walk out in support of Grant this week. Source: ABC

Two months later ABC producers placed him squarely in focus on an issue demonstrably close to him during Charles III’s coronation, then leaving him to fend for himself when the inevitable vitriol from the public, fed by sections of the media, came his way. 

The ABC was again chasing its tail this week following Grant’s scathing comments. 

After the deluge, managing director of the ABC David Anderson said on Wednesday he is worried about indigenous staff at the broadcaster in its run up. What does that say about the ABC’s ability to protect its journos? And how it had done so previously?

“The time for dignified silence is over,” he added in what signals a break in its longstanding policy of keeping away from responding to criticisms from sections of the media, namely News Corp.

Arguably the time for silence was over quite some time ago. In this instance, the ABC committed a failure in its duty of care for one of its most prominent journalists. For that, it has been rightly criticised.

“I regret not doing this sort of interview 10 days ago,” Stevens told the ABC’s Raf Epstein this week.

Stevens said this week he regretted not speaking up sooner

“I think we are going to have to get into the habit… to call this out more often and more regularly.”

As part of those criticisms, Sky News’ Joe Hildebrand said Grant “shouldn’t have been put on” the coronation coverage this week, instead “he could have had a special show delving into the history of the British Empire and all the terrible things they’ve done”.

A 2022 survey following the death of Queen Elizabeth II found an even split in the public’s support for our new monarch, with older Australians, women and Coalition supporters skewing towards backing Charles III.

While the dial hasn’t moved heavily in favour of a republic, younger audiences are increasingly aware of Australia’s colonial past, particularly as we welcome a new monarch and lead up to a vote formalising representation of first nations voices. 

An editorial from The Australian this week read: “The ABC has badly misjudged its audience and let down a star performer, but rather than admit its mistakes it has followed the inflammatory path of looking for scapegoats. As is often the case, bashing commercial media, notably this newspaper and Sky News, has been a handy substitute for admitting the truth of its own failings.”

“The ABC needs to stop passing the buck and blaming others for its own internal problems,” added local News Corp chairman Michael Miller on Tuesday.

Headline in The Australian this week

On one count the masthead is right. It did let down its star. However did it misjudge its audience?

The ABC’s coronation coverage averaged 1,182,000 viewers on the ABC, soundly beating commercial competitors at Seven and Nine, though The Australian’s claim that the 1,700-odd complaints were a clear demonstration that the broadcaster had it all wrong might be a bit of a stretch. 

The ABC ombudsman later found on Thursday the coverage did not breach editorial standards. 

“Let us have our moment!” scream monarchists arguing it was not the time or place for such discussions. 

For a nation that hasn’t always been forthcoming in acknowledging its treatment of first nations people, if we can’t shed light on that debate at the height of its focus then when can we?

By deferring the conversation the implication is that we shouldn’t really have the conversation at all. 

Is The Voice debate set to descend into a slinging match over the next six months? 

A former ABC executive told me this week that when the public broadcaster gets into a public spat with its commercial rivals, it is best to ignore its critics rather than “feed the lion”.

Otherwise, the result is a “cultural spiral” occupying headlines for weeks on end even providing significant fodder for more progressive onlooking sections of the media. 

While it is a “repeat performance” from News Corp et al, “the difference is the government isn’t piling in…and no one is listening to the opposition”.  

In December I visited Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park to celebrate NITV’s 10th anniversary as a national broadcaster in an event hosted by Grant and Rhoda Roberts, two of Australia’s most prominent indigenous broadcasters. 

NITV’s 10th Birthday concert

It was a magnificent celebration of how far the broadcaster and its surrounding community had come in that decade. 

“Against the odds we continue to build our First Nations media industry,” Dot West, Noongar woman, former non-executive director of SBS, and legend of the media sector told me.

Six months later, and in the same week, Grant has been run out of television and NITV has been run off Twitter.  

We’ve seen this before many times. Australia’s media fuelled the fire against AFL champion Adam Goodes in the last three years of his career, which he later admitted forced him into retirement. As with the ABC and Grant, the AFL later admitted it didn’t do its part to protect him.

The Australian of the Year was chased out of the AFL, too

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age’s Osman Faruqi wrote about Grant this week, and how he has been a supportive and often critical character at the ABC for other ethnically diverse journalists.

Faruqi wrote: “Before I started my first role with the ABC back in 2018, almost every non-white person who had worked at the organisation advised me against taking a job there. They cited story after story of overt racism from colleagues, managers and the audience.

“Grant had a reputation for going out of his way to acknowledge those of us who felt deeply out of place at the ABC.”

With one of the biggest decisions in our nation’s history looming later this year, the lack of Grant’s voice (and presence) at the ABC will significantly weaken its coverage and offering. And the Australian debate will be poorer without him.

The rest of the week

There was plenty else going on this week, highlighted by the release of the Mumbrella Awards shortlist for 2023. Congratulations to all those nominated.

The comments section again lit up, this time following an investigation by Mumbrella into media agency graduate pay, with Omnicom Media Group revealed to be lagging behind on industry standards.

Dr Mumbo was active earlier in the week too, highlighting one bizarre job ad, and rumblings of a media spat. 

And finally, a happy ending for Milkrun, which was bought out by Woolworths this week. Mumbrella reported on some of its former creative team pulling together a last-minute relaunch ad to celebrate the buyout deal.

Signing off…

By the time you read this, I will have finished up at Mumbrella, with my final day being yesterday, Friday 26 May.

I’m joining the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age covering the media beat. While I am sad to be leaving Mumbrella, I am incredibly excited for this next step.

A big thank you to all of the wonderful people I have met during my Mumbrella years, past and present colleagues, and of course our readers, too. It has been a fun ride!

Catch me on socials, if you’d like to get in touch.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


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