Channel Nine’s ‘Today’ host Karl Stefanovic has sparked conversations around “white privilege” and “making space” for more culturally diverse on-air talent after he responded to a study examining the lack of diversity when it comes to Australian TV.
The report by Media Diversity Australia and a series of academics shows 75% of on-air talent on news and current affairs television programs are Anglo-Celtic heritage, while only 6% are either Indigenous or from a non-European background. The report points out an estimated 42% of Australians are European, non-European and Indigenous, meaning the faces we see on TV news don’t come anywhere near mirroring the people who watch the on-air programming.
News.com.au reported Channel Nine as the “worst offender” when it came to on-screen cultural diversity and that “for every Waleed Aly, there are nine Karl Stefanovics.” According to the report, which said it based its findings on cultural backgrounds through biographical information, public statements about a person’s background, full name and the origins of those names, birthplace and “visual observation,” 2.9% of Channel Nine’s on-air talent were categorised as from non-European backgrounds and 0.2% as Indigenous.
Stefanovic on Monday Tweeted his response to the report questioning what counts as diverse, adding that he was “proud” of his “Yugoslav German and British” heritage and that Nine has always “supported” him.
“Im not sure how diverse you need to be to qualify for diverse but I’m of Yugoslav German and British heritage with a surname Stefanovic,” the Tweet said. “I used to be called a wog at school. I’m proud of my heritage. Im pretty sure it’s diverse and nine have always supported that.”
The Tweet ignited criticism from the public, and members of the Australian media industry pointing out that the presenter “gets perks” from being a cis white man, with some calling for Stefanovic to “open his eyes” and “make space” for culturally diverse Australians.
“Maltese Serbian here. We’re pretty damn white in the scheme of things, Karl. This isn’t our fight mate,” one follower posted.
“I’m Scottish & English, but when someone looks at me, they see ‘White’. I get perks from that, whether I want them or not, as do you,” replied another.
“A large portion of Australians think like this. Karl, no one doubts you were called a “wog” growing up. But in 2020, there are far greater examples of our growing diversity. To pretend like you are proves the point the research is making. You *should* know better,” another said.
Andrew Jakubowicz, professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney, questioned if Stefanovic had made on-air contributions to relevant cultural issues recently.
“What way other than his name does he express perspectives apart from the dominant Anglo-Australian world views?” the academic told HuffPost Australia.
“Karl has been embraced by and inhaled the buffo culture of Anglo Australian masculinity ― which can be multicoloured but not necessarily very diverse in content. However, being white after being a wog for a while is the way up for European ethnics in a multicultural, multicoloured society.”
Professor of sociology and political theory at University of Sydney and report co-author Tim Soutphommasane notes that Stefanovic was counted in the report as a “journalist with European background” and has in the past been vocal in drawing attention to the lack of diversity on Australian TV.
“We appreciate Mr Stefanovic’s interest in the report, he has used his influence in the past to advocate for cultural diversity. We would be very surprised if he weren’t sympathetic to the report’s diagnosis and recommendations,” Soutphommasane told HuffPost Australia. “In our study, we made a clear distinction between Anglo-Celtic and European backgrounds. Those who have English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh ancestral backgrounds have been counted as having an Anglo-Celtic background. Mr Stefanovic was counted as a journalist who has a European background.”
Others pointed out that diversity should not be judged by complexion.
Darren Wick, Nine’s director of news and current affairs, responded to Media Diversity Australia’s report with this statement:
“We all acknowledge that diversity in all media/newsrooms ― not just television ― is a challenge both in Australia and globally. However, I don’t think simply counting surnames on TV is an effective way of addressing the issue or helps in finding practical solutions to these challenges.
“This report has clear errors / ignores the significant contribution of someone like Brooke Boney on ‘Today’, where she is one of four main hosts on the desk, instead simply listing her daily and regular contribution on the program at somewhere between 0.1 and 0 percent. This is not reflective of the real changes and proactive appointments we have been making in improving diversity in our television business.”