A new survey conducted by the University of the Sunshine Coast has found that the overwhelming majority of Australian journalists working today come from a white Anglo-Saxon background, with those of minority ethnic heritages few and far between.
Undertaken between May 2012 and March this year, the survey, the first of its kind for more than 20 years, interviewed 605 press, broadcast and online journalists – a significant sample of the 8000 to 10,000 journos currently working in Australia.
While three out of four gave their ethnicity as at least partly Anglo-Saxon, only 4.7 per cent came from Asian or Middle Eastern backgrounds – around half of what it should be, if it was to fully reflect the current demographics of the Australian population.
The survey’s organisers have suggested that because journalists’ backgrounds are not representative of the total population, this may be a factor in affecting their world views, and the angle they take on stories.
To explore this proposition, Neos Kosmos spoke to Patricia Karvelas, Victoria editor of The Australian newspaper. She says the argument doesn’t hold water.
“Australian journalists are smart enough to cover issues of culture and race without having to be ethnic per se.
“I for instance cover indigenous affairs and am obviously not indigenous, and I don’t think this compromises my reporting at all. The important thing is to seek a range of views and seek not to racially stereotype people.”
Whilst a journo’s heritage informs who they are and issues they might find of particular interest, says the News Ltd editor, good journalism goes beyond race and ethnicity.
“Being of Greek background is not the only part of who I am, although I’m certainly very proud that I am a child of migrants.
“I have never felt that my ethnicity has made much of a difference to my reporting. My professional ethics and standards are not informed by any biases.”
Karvelas says she’d like to see more ethnic minorities in journalism, including the emerging African community and indigenous Australians, adding that she has never encountered cultural barriers at The Australian.
“If Greek Australians are interested in journalism I would encourage them to get out and start reporting. Doors open when people show talent regardless of their background.”
Michael Short, senior columnist at The Age, who spent ten years working overseas, told Neos Kosmos:
“What is important is what is actually produced by Australian media, not who produces it.
“It’s a little simplistic and tokenistic to assert that the outcome would be – in terms of cultural nuance – superior, were people selected to produce journalism on the basis of their heritage.”
Short says the diversity of Australian media, particularly through the revolution in social media (which he prefers to call ‘open media’) has probably never been healthier.
“There are so many different sources and voices out there,” says the Fairfax journo.
“What we should be seeking are editors and reporters who are professional, sensitive, curious, ethical and alert. That is how the fourth estate best serves people culturally, politically and socially.”
As for political leanings, the University of the Sunshine Coast’s study reveals that while more than half the country’s journalists hold left-of-centre political views, senior editors barrack more for the Coalition.
More than half of the journalists who took part (51 per cent) described themselves as holding left-of-centre political views, compared with only 12.9 per cent who consider themselves right-of-centre.
When asked about their voting intentions, less than two-thirds surveyed revealed their voting intentions. Of those, 372 (43 per cent) said they would give their first preference vote to Labor; 30 per cent would vote for the Coalition; and just over 19 per cent said they would choose the Greens.
But amongst those who arguably matter most – the senior editorial ranks who have the most power to decide news agendas – the Coalition was the party of choice on 43.2 per cent, followed by Labor (34.1) and the Greens (11.4).
The figures suggest that on politics, Australia’s media bosses are more in line with the broader electorate, at least according to recent Newspoll results.