Media diversity. It’s a term being thrown around a lot since last year’s Australian Media Diversity Report stating that 75.6% of people were of an Anglo-Celtic background; considering an estimated 58% of Australians identify with that background, this is a clear overrepresentation.1 Some people may still be wondering, ‘Yes, there’s an overrepresentation of Anglo-Celtic people... but so what?’ As a South-East Asian person, I care about seeing a familiar face to show me that there is room for diversity in my media. As a person of colour, I want fair representation in an industry that continues to shape society’s worldview. Without representation, there’s a lack of diverse exposure. With mostly white representation, there is a limited lens through which people will see stories. That limited lens is what breeds a lack of understanding of other cultures, disempowers minority communities and their stories. And it shows people of colour that there’s not enough space to accommodate for differences.
My first exposure to Australian media saw a mix of mostly white people and the occasional person of colour. As a child, I would immediately notice the few Asian people in the media at the time. I remember watching Hi-5 and seeing Kathleen, a Filipino-Australian woman straight away. She became my favourite because she looked like me. This is not to say that I only loved Asian people in the media — I looked up to many people who weren’t Asian in the media I consumed — but I did notice how little representation people like me had in Australia, especially now as a student aspiring to be in the media industry.
"If you’re not given any learning opportunities, you’re not in an internship that will benefit you, you’re in an internship where you’re being taken advantage of."
As a communications student today, undertaking internships has not always been the smoothest ride for me. One of my first experiences as a journalism intern was terrible. There have been stories of up-and-coming journalists being racially discriminated against, but many people are silenced.2,3 According to a 2021 survey from Unions NSW, 44% of people surveyed said they experienced some form of racial discrimination at their workplace, and of those people, 78% did not have their racial discrimination experience at work addressed.3 There are many who have not voiced their stories out of fear of repercussions. This is a similar worry for me. I can’t outright shame this company without fearing that they may try to shut me down, but I can try to generally explain what happened to me.
In my first year as a journalism student, I was hired by a media company as an intern to write news stories in a local area. I received little to no guidance despite regular interactions between interns and supervisors. We were just expected to pick up the pace. This is the first red flag of a bad internship; if you’re not given any learning opportunities, even after taking initiative, you’re not in an internship that will benefit you. You’re in an internship where you’re being taken advantage of. After trying to leave the internship, they offered me a paid position, but this is where most of the issues started.
The first thing I was aware of was that I was the only woman of colour in the office. Nearly every other person was a white man, with the exception of one white woman. I remember experiencing microaggressions, where my manager would intimidate me and blame me for actions that weren't my fault, despite not necessarily being that aggressive to other people on the team. I remember his short temper with me, and though he never said anything to my face, I’d heard him call other women ‘bitches’ or ‘cunts’, and people of colour ‘illiterate’ when they made mistakes. I remember being told by another manager that one of the employees was too ‘special’ to come into work one day, because of certain requirements he had in regards to his disability. After I had a breakdown in the office from the stress from working there, this same manager told me to ‘never do that again’.
This job left me feeling defeated. I knew not all jobs in media were as bad as this, but for a while my first experience working professionally made me feel that I could not pursue journalism. To this day, I still question if I should continue journalism despite a couple years having passed.
I know this all sounds a little grim, but there’s a lot of growth within the media industry as well, especially on smaller scales. I now work in a majority female team, with half of them being people of colour. While a lack of minority representation in media means there’s often no spaces for people of colour in media, people of colour are making their own spaces. People of colour are going into spaces that traditionally would not have them and fostering a space for more minorities to join.
1. Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories? Putting the spotlight on cultural and linguistic diversity
2. Young People In NSW Are Experiencing Workplace Racism At Horrifying Levels
3. Young, free and living precariously: findings of unions NSW youth survey