Diversity in Australian newsrooms takes another hit as Stan Grant steps down due to racism

In a tearful address to the ABC’s Q+A audience on Monday night, revered Wiradjuri presenter Stan Grant announced he was stepping away from his role indefinitely because he needed a break from the “poison” of the media.

Grant’s decision came after the journalist received a renewed wave of racial abuse online after his reflections as an invited panellist on the coronation of King Charles in ABC’s coverage of the event.

In a column published last Friday on the ABC website, Grant revealed that the relentless abuse levelled at himself and his family, along with a failure on the part of his employers to protect him, has tainted his view of his role in the media and prompted his decision to step away.

“I am writing this not because I think it will make a difference. No doubt the haters will twist this, too, and trigger another round of racism,” Grant wrote.

“I am writing this because no one at the ABC — whose producers invited me onto their coronation coverage as a guest — has uttered one word of public support. Not one ABC executive has publicly refuted the lies written or spoken about me. I don’t hold any individual responsible; this is an institutional failure.”

Grant asserts that he isn’t taking time out from his role because of the racist attacks he has endured as he doesn’t want to “give the racists that satisfaction”, but that he feels the media is currently failing to adequately tell the story of Australia’s history.

“I take time out because we have shown again that our history — our hard truth — is too big, too fragile, too precious for the media. The media sees only battle lines, not bridges. It sees only politics,” writes Grant.

“I want no part of it. I want to find a place of grace far from the stench of the media. I want to go where I am not reminded of the social media sewer.”

In a report released in late 2022 titled Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories? 2.0, it was revealed that the share of appearances by presenters and reporters on Australian screens with an indigenous background was 5.4% in 2022 (compared to 78% Anglo-Celtic). It also revealed that Indigenous representation is concentrated in a relatively small number of presenters and reporters, rather than being spread more broadly, and that that they experience greater barriers to representation in front of the camera than their counterparts.

This report was followed up by a report into the Online Safety of Diverse Journalists, commissioned once again by Media Diversity Australia and released this month (May 2023), which focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and racially marginalised, LGBTQIA+ and/or people living with disability working in the media.

This report revealed that an alarming 85% of participants had experienced either personal or professional abuse online.

The report outlined that diverse journalists had largely come to accept that online harassment and abuse from the public was “just part of the job”, with many adding that they were expected to operate in what they considered “hostile work environments”.

ABC Managing Director, David Anderson publicly apologised to Grant via a statement on Sunday, stating that he was “dismayed” that the veteran journalist had been exposed to such “sickening behaviour”.

“The experiences of ABC presenter and commentator Stan Grant following our coverage of the Coronation of King Charles III have been distressing and confronting for the ABC, as they should be for the entire media industry and the broader community,” Anderson said.

“The Chair and Deputy Chair of the ABC’s Bonner Committee have asked me to conduct a review to investigate and make recommendations about ABC responses to racism affecting ABC staff, and what we can do better to support staff who face it.”

Meanwhile other notable indigenous media representatives have spoken out to condem the treatment of Grant by some members of the Australian public, including Luke Pearson, Gamilaroi man and Founder & CEO of independent media, consultancy and training organisation, IndigenousX.

In a post titled, The racism experienced by Stan Grant is the norm, not the exception, Pearson states:

“The racism that Stan Grant has has to endure is unacceptable, but it is also entirely unexceptional. You simply cannot exist in Australia as an Indigenous person without encountering it.”

He continues, “So long as white Australia continues to give itself the benefit of the doubt regarding the racism it upholds and perpetuates, we will continue to be denied the benefit of the doubt of our experiences of it.”

“So long as we are denied the benefit of the doubt regarding racism and its impacts, Australia will continue to fail to address it in any meaningful way.”

In his impassioned speech for Q&A, Grant reiterated that his time away from the spotlight will be spent refocusing his energy and interrogating his role.

“I need a break from the media. I feel like I’m part of the problem and I need to ask myself how, or if, we can do it better.”

“Too often, we are the poison in the bloodstream of our society.”

But as the recent reports from Media Diversity Australia indicate, it is more Indigenous voices that are needed on Australian screens, not less.

It’s high time that our media institutions start to seriously invest in support systems and structural change so their diverse staff are protected and showcased. Only then will our media landscape even begin the long journey to adequately reflecting our countries vast cross section of cultures, and reckoning with our violent history.

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