Indigenous and cultural diversity in some parts of Australian television news has increased marginally over the past two years, according to a "report card" by Media Diversity Australia (MDA).
However, the report Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories? 2.0 produced in partnership with the University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney and released today found journalists from an Anglo-Celtic background remained "vastly over-represented" on TV screens.
Lead academic Dimitria Groutsis, from University of Sydney's Business School, said the industry still did not represent the Australian audience.
"It doesn't even come close," Dr Groutsis said.
"However, there has been some progress in parts of the media and an opportunity for Australian newsrooms to leverage best practice and become world leaders.
"This will not only attract more viewers, but will also yield economic dividends."
While the networks were generally supportive of the report's aims, most had issues with the methodology used.
The researchers looked at a two-week "slice" of news and current affairs across the Seven Network, Nine, Network Ten, ABC, SBS and National Indigenous Television [NITV] between June 1 and 14 this year.
The sample included almost 25,000 items from 103 news and current affairs programs including breakfast news, early evening news, prime-time news, late-night news, weekend news and news updates, and current affairs shows.
They included shows like Ten's The Project and Studio 10, ABC's Insiders and The Drum, Insight on SBS and 60 Minutes on Nine.
The first Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories report was released in 2020 and served as a baseline for the new report.
Since then, the researchers found the proportion of TV news and current affairs presenters, commentators and reporters with an Anglo-Celtic background had increased from 75.8 per cent to 78 per cent.
Nine was the only network to decrease its portion of Anglo-Celtic on-air talent.
While the proportion of appearances by those with an Indigenous background improved from 1.2 per cent to 5.4 per cent, this was inconsistent across networks, according to the report.
And while Indigenous representation had improved in terms of on-air appearances, the total number of reporters remained under-represented at 2.8 per cent.
"This suggests that Indigenous representation is concentrated in a relatively small number of presenters and reporters, rather than being spread more broadly," the report said.
The non-European category increased from 4.7 per cent to 6.1 per cent but remained the most severely under-represented, particularly on commercial networks.
Meanwhile, the proportion with a European background decreased from 18.3 per cent to 10.4 per cent.
The researchers also looked at leadership positions in the news organisations and found that while gender balance had improved, cultural diversity had declined.
Other sections of the report included a survey of attitudes of journalists in newsrooms, interviews with regional newsroom leaders, an audience poll on perceptions of representation in news and currents affairs, international comparisons and recommendations on "how newsrooms can, and should, do better".
Report team member Nareen Young, the associate dean (Indigenous Leadership and Engagement) at UTS Business School, said public-sector media had "clearly" done some work.
"But the commercial sector seems yet to understand the business case for both Indigenous and other forms of diversity, on boards, in leadership roles, on our news screens," Professor Young said.
"It's very disappointing given the focus in most other areas of business and industry. They're well behind.
"Given the spirit of the times, commercial television needs to get behind the well-established push to recruit, support, and promote Indigenous people at the networks.
"There's massive amounts of research they can draw on to help them with their business case."
'There is still much work to do'
The Australian Human Rights Commission's race discrimination commissioner, Chin Tan, said a lack of media representation contributed to negative media portrayals and the perpetuation of harmful narratives of First Nations and multicultural communities.
"Increasing the participation of these communities in the media is a critical step in advancing culturally appropriate reporting," he said.
Despite the findings of the report that diversity had increased, Mr Tan said the media had helped exacerbate racism and racial abuse in recent years, particularly reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There is still much work to do in improving media diversity," he said.
"We have a long way to go before Australian screens start to genuinely reflect the diversity of our communities and country."
He also suggested that Australia needed a "standardised approach to the collection and monitoring of diversity" in the media and potentially strengthened media regulation and community standards.
Australian Multicultural Council chairperson Bulent Hass Dellal said a shift in focus was needed.
"We need to embrace and harness the benefits of our diversity and leave behind a discussion of diversity as an outcome in and of itself," he said.
"Now is the time for a greater focus on inclusion because of the potential it holds for our future.
"By having diverse voices to tell those stories that truly reflect the richness of our diversity in all its forms, brings a greater understanding and appreciation of our differences for a more cohesive society."
He added there had already been improvement in the media's approach to diversity.
"Other than SBS and ABC, I think there's a greater awareness of the importance of engaging with diverse communities today in a meaningful way and to achieve that diversity of thought and relevance," he said.
"I think mainstream media have come to terms with the importance of being more representative, inclusive and to be able to tell those stories to reflect the diversity of what Australia is today.
"But we can still do much better."
Victorian Multicultural Commission chairperson Viv Nguyen said increased diversity in newsrooms allowed news organisations to provide "different angles, different activities and different perspectives".
Ms Nguyen said it also increased trust in the media and showed people from diverse backgrounds that working in the media was a valid career choice.
She added that diversity in representation in the media had societal benefits by creating a sense of belonging.
"I think that sense of belonging, that sense of purpose, and that sense of this is my place, this is my home, and this is what I can do, and my voice gets heard — those social aspects are really important because it goes to the cohesion side of things," she said.
News organisations respond
In its response to the report, the Seven Network said diversity, equity and inclusion were "core values" and the company had "undertaken a number of steps to recruit more professionals from diverse backgrounds across all areas of the business".
"As members of Media Diversity Australia, Seven will continue to work with them to remove barriers to diversity, such as increasing the pipeline of professionals from diverse backgrounds entering the industry," a spokesperson said.
"Unfortunately, this report does not capture the range of diversity across all of Seven’s news, current affairs, drama, reality, entertainment and sports programming we show year-round.
"As a new member of Media Diversity Australia, we hope to work constructively on the next report to ensure that the methodology is more robust and the analysis accurately assesses a representative data set."
The ABC's acting head of Indigenous, diversity and inclusion Gavin Fang said the corporation welcomed the report but also questioned whether its criteria, which excluded non-television platforms and those behind the cameras, was able to determine "who is telling Australian stories at the ABC".
Fang also questioned the report's claim the ABC's senior television news leadership teams appeared to be exclusively Anglo-Celtic.
"For example, it doesn't include me, and I'm deputy director of ABC News, founder of the News Diversity Advisory Group and currently acting head of Indigenous, Diversity and Inclusion for the entire ABC," he said.
He added the ABC was already implementing most of the recommended actions for change outlined in the report but acknowledged the ABC and broader industry had "more work to do".
A Nine spokesperson said the network acknowledged and supported MDA's "important work".
The spokesperson said Nine had made a "significant impact" internally on diversity and inclusion but said: "There is more work for the industry to do."
"We have raised concerns on the methodology of this report that has failed to reflect significant diversity, particularly in its reporting of female representation," the statement added.
"The failure to include, for example, two of the 9Network's most senior news executives — the female executive producers of 60 Minutes and A Current Affair, who report directly to the national news director — undermines the credibility of this report on diversity in the media.
"Nine is a member of Media Diversity Australia and we look forward to working closely with that team for future iterations of the report to ensure accuracy within their data."
SBS director of news and current affairs Mandi Wicks said the network was pleased the report highlighted its clear commitment to multicultural and First Nations storytelling, both on and off the screen.
"In 2022 SBS launched Australia's only prime-time news programs in languages other than English, with SBS News in Arabic and SBS News in Mandarin," Wicks said.
"It is disappointing these bulletins were not included in the report as they represent important additions in the Australian media landscape.
"We look forward to their inclusion in future reports."
Network Ten did not respond to the ABC's request for comment.
'We are constrained by funding'
Dr Groutsis, the lead academic on the report, said: "We would love to expand the research to include more layers of leadership such as, for instance, deputy leaders and executive producers and more on-screen talent," she said.
"Undertaking an annual measure and reporting on outcomes would also be welcome, but we are constrained by funding."
She suggested that the networks could help fund the research or collect and release the metrics themselves.
"There's also a role for the broadcasting authority ACMA, in terms of regulating mandatory data collection and reporting," she said.
"In the UK for instance, Ofcom has been collecting and reporting on data from television and radio stations annually, releasing metrics across a range of diversity markers such as race/culture, age, sexuality and disability."