In an impassioned and vulnerable key note speech delivered at the 2023 Human Insights Conference via video link from Denmark, Stan Grant has cautioned Australian’s against falling for the “illusion of separation” peddled by Australian news media ahead of the vote to voice referendum.
The Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri journalist recently announced that he was walking away from his role at the ABC and the media after four decades to take on a role as as professor of journalism at Monash University and director of the Constructive Institute Asia Pacific. Situated in Denmark, the latter aims to “combat the trivialisation and degradation of journalism by emphasising reporting that is more solutions-focused, balanced and connects society.”
In his speech to a rapt audience, and with tears welling in his eyes, Grant said, “In 40 years of journalism I’ve grown increasingly despondent about the role of our media. I’ve grown increasingly despondent at the constant conflict and the way that we present our world. I’ve grown increasingly despondent about the disconnect between the media that is fixated on the worst of us…”
Grant then spoke about the unifying moment that was the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and our nation’s support of the Matildas. He pointed to Australian’s from all walks of life joining together to cheer on teams from around the world as they played in cities across Australia as an example of the optimism and camaraderie shared that isn’t reflected in our day-to-day media.
“There is this paradox between us reaching for each other, the ability of us to sit next to each other in stadiums, to sit next to each other in rooms like this, to have conversations, to look with optimism to the future, and then there is the dark side of our world amplified by a media that frames everything around conflict and division,” says Grant.
“I can speak to this not just academically, not just in an abstract way, but in this year of referendum in our country, of the personal cost that I have paid for this, the personal toll of myself and my family this past year. My life has become one long, endless headline from racist attack, racial trolling on social media…”
The former Q&A host famously stepped away from his role on the show after racial abuse against the journalist escalated following his comments on the ABC’s coverage of King Charles’s coronation about the impact of colonialism.
In his speech to conference members, Grant reiterated that he felt his family and himself were left exposed by an ABC that lacked the “courage” to protect their aboriginal staff.
“I’ve had to walk away from working at the ABC because the ABC does not have the courage to support and vigorously defend its own staff. It has failed aboriginal staff time and time and time again. I’ve warned the ABC in the past that it is a culturally hostile environment for Aboriginal people.”
“There are good people in our media. There are good people at the ABC and there are good people in the Murdoch press who have attacked me, people who are friends of mine, people who are dedicated to justice and better conversation, but there is also an ugly culture in our media that continually pits people against each other that turns our lives into an amusement park that puts politics at the forefront of everything,” says Grant.
Grant touched on the recent headlines in the media around his skin colour and Murdoch Press claims of bullying during his time at ABC, saying, “The lies and distortions of the media aim to try to bring me and other Aboriginal people down. Make no mistake. There is a racist intent to these attacks, to attack people who dare to stand up and speak for truth, to portray people in sinister ways.”
With his address being made the day following the announcement of the date of the voice to parliament referendum, Grant used some of his time to advocate for people to remove themselves from the debate of division being led by the media, and to move towards connection.
“There are people who want to say that this referendum divides Australia. Australia has already and far too long been divided. This is a referendum to say we are not that, we will not live under the illusion of separation,” says Grant.
“This is a referendum that will say to the media, we will not follow your endless, endless conflict and hatred. This is a way of saying yes. If we say no, that’s the end of the conversation. Nothing comes after, but yes, opens the door for the possibilities. Yes, says hope. Yes says we see you. Yes, says we see each other. Yes says Australia can be a country for all of us.”