For those of us without white skin, working at the ABC sometimes felt like entering the belly of the beast.
Like all elite Australian cultural institutions and media organisations, the ABC is overwhelmingly unrepresentative of the country it claims to serve.
Entering the broadcaster’s Sydney headquarters in Ultimo was like going back in time. As soon as you walked through the doors, the cosmopolitan diversity of Sydney disappeared, and you were transported back to an era in Australia when – aside from security and cleaning staff – you were more likely to bump into a migrant from France or Italy than someone from China or India.
The higher up the organisation you go, the fewer and fewer diverse faces you see (of the 17 people that comprise the ABC’s leadership team and board, only one is not white), contributing to a culture that is, at best, dismissive of the needs and concerns of staff and audience who aren’t white and, at worst, actively hostile to them.
It’s that cultural context that makes the ABC’s approach to reporting issues that intersect with race, like the recent coronation of King Charles III, so complicated. The broadcaster hosted a panel before the coronation, hosted by Julia Baird, featuring Stan Grant, Craig Foster and Liberal MP Julian Leeser, discussing different perspectives on the monarchy.
Soon after it aired the panel drew numerous complaints from monarchists and sections of the conservative media, with some calling for “heads to roll”. The main focus of the criticism was Grant, who spoke about what the legacy of the crown meant to him as an Indigenous man whose ancestors had experienced genocide. The complaints reflected a regular pattern at the broadcaster: audience complaints that its content is too “left-wing” are common, but vitriolic criticism is disproportionately handed out to non-white presenters. The problem doesn’t lie solely with the audience, however.
Those responsible for airing the segment, asking Grant to participate when they knew what the likely outcome would be, have a duty of care to back him to the hilt. But when the complaints flooded in and the ABC’s regular critics smelt blood, those who should have stood up for Grant stayed quiet – reflecting a depressingly common trend non-white ABC staff have experienced for years.
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.
When I did start, and encountered many of the same issues I was warned about, there were a handful of older, experienced colleagues from non-white backgrounds who did their best to help the rest of us out. One of those was Stan Grant.