- By Tiffany Turnbull
- BBC News, Sydney
After a prestigious career spanning more than three decades, pioneering Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant hosted his last show on Monday and left Australia’s television screens indefinitely.
“Racism is a crime. Racism is violence. And I’m sick of it,” Grant wrote in last week’s column, explaining his decision.
The Man from Wiradjuri made history in 1992 when he became the first Aboriginal presenter on prime-time commercial television in Australia. He went on to win a slew of awards in the Australian media and was an international correspondent for CNN and Al Jazeera before returning home in 2019 to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
ABC describes him as one of Australia’s most respected and award-winning journalists.
But on Monday night he looked defeated, visibly shaking as he logged out of his political panel on the Q+A show.
“For those who took advantage of me and my family, all I can say is – if your goal was to hurt me, well, you succeeded,” he said.
Grant’s decision to leave has reignited heated conversations about racism and media diversity in Australia.
“If one of the few Indigenous TV presenters whose career has taken him around the world can’t be protected from racism… what will that mean for anyone else on a similar path?” – ABC journalist Ryma Tchier wrote on Twitter.
Australia’s indigenous people have over 60,000 years of history and half of Australians were either born overseas or have a parent who was.
However, the media representing such a multicultural population remains disproportionately white.
A 2022 study found that over three-quarters of Australian television reporters or presenters were from Anglo-Celtic cultures. The difference was even more pronounced at the leadership and board level.
The Media Diversity Australia report prompted the five television networks surveyed to recognize a lack of diversity. But the channels also questioned the report’s findings, criticizing the way it defined the cultural background and criticizing the study’s short two-week research window.
Several indicated that they had increased diversity in other areas of their business or tried to increase representation through targeted roles and recruitment.
But the wider issue has long been an issue in the Australian media, with critics citing it contributing to high-profile controversy.
And in 2020, Australia’s most watched breakfast show, Channel Seven’s Sunrise, settled a case of racial discrimination in an all-white panel where an expert suggested that Aboriginal children be forcibly removed from their families.
Seven Network initially defended the segment that sparked the protests outside their studio, saying that “editorial opinions … are an essential part of journalism”, but later apologized for causing offense after the broadcasting regulator said they had breached industry standards.
The prestigious media award – the Kennedys – was also criticized in 2021 for not having a single person of color on the 60-member jury.
The cultural diversity of the Australian media industry is shocking compared to many other Western countries, says Antoinette Lattouf, who in 2011 became one of the first Arab-Australian women to work as a commercial television reporter.
As a result, he says, the stories of many Australian communities are not told and important perspectives are missed.
“Each nation has its own challenges … (but) anyone who has … seen the BBC, CNN, ITV and even broadcasters in New Zealand will notice that they are much more diverse than our screens,” says Lattouf, co-founder of Media Diversity Australia Group to improve the situation.
“Just Couldn’t Go Back”
Culturally diverse journalists say they face more barriers to entry into the Australian media industry than their peers.
But cases like Stan Grant’s reveal the problem stores have with stopping them once they’ve done so.
Former ABC reporter Rhianna Patrick says the reason she joined the industry was the same reason she left it.
“I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a journalist … because I realized that the only time I saw people from my community reflected in the media was in a negative way,” a Torres Strait Islander told the BBC.
Over two decades, she built an impressive career – first on Indigenous radio, then on ABC, where she starred as the headliner of her own national radio show.
But Mrs. Patrick was the only native person in her ward, sometimes on an entire floor.
The impact of this fact hit her immediately in 2020 as she watched the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the world, including Australia.
“All these things that I buried … started to come to the surface and I realized … I just can’t go back to the mainstream media space and do my job,” she said.
Non-white journalists regularly reported racial abuse from the public. In the aftermath of Grant’s departure, even more experiences were revealed.
“Maybe once a week I hear racist slurs (or) hear I’m not Australian… I’ve also thought about leaving because of the racist abuse,” said news anchor and comedian Michael Hing, who is Chinese and Australian.
He said he also considered leaving ABC because “all-white management teams too often fail to understand.”
There is also racism from peers, say Ms Lattouf and Ms Patrick.
“If there were ever crimes committed by people of Middle Eastern descent, people (in the editorial office) would say things like, ‘oh, what were your cousins doing?’ says Ms. Lattouf.
“I’ve been told ‘I’m one of the good ones’ from the Lebanese community – an offhand compliment that suggests the rest of my community is not good.”
There is also the pressure that often comes with being the only person in your community on the newsroom and feeling disproportionately responsible for covering an issue or standing up for your people.
They say discussing topics such as police brutality, racism and violence can be personal and traumatic.
Ms. Patrick says she knows the work she did was important. “But you also want to have moments where you can make stories of core perfection, of core joy.”
Deciding to go
It all adds up. And so – like Grant – many culturally diverse journalists leave.
When Grant announced his departure, he accused ABC of “institutional failure” to protect or defend.
He said the racism had been “relentless” throughout his career, but reached a new level of intensity after he covered the king’s coronation for ABC when he spoke about the impact of colonization on his people.
Grant said ABC invited him to be part of the coverage specifically to bring this perspective, but when the backlash came, he was left alone. He also noted the role some conservative media outlets have played in amplifying the outrage.
In the days following his decision, “Stay with Stan” protests were held, and ABC apologized and pledged to improve.
“I’m incredibly sorry that he felt let down by our organization … we will do everything we can to make up for it,” said ABC News director Justin Stevens.
ABC has promised to review how it handles racism directed at staff. It follows other reviews it has had in recent years to improve diversity.
Some commentators hope that anger over Grant’s exile may mark a turning point, but others are skeptical.
“You go through these cycles of reckoning – reforms are being introduced, you have some new staff – but the actual underlying structures don’t change that much,” one Aboriginal reporter, who did not want to be named, told the BBC.
In his final speech on Monday, Grant said he had spent his career trying to represent his people with pride and love.
“I just wanted to make us visible and I’m sorry I can’t do that for a while,” he said.
“I had to learn that endurance doesn’t always mean strength. Sometimes strength lies in knowing when to stop.
“I’m down now. I am. But I’ll get up and you can come to me again. And I will meet you with the love of my people.”