Tracy Vo’s appointment as Today show newsreader in 2020 is not just part of a breakfast TV shakeup, but symbolic of progress towards greater media representation of Australia’s multicultural population.
Sydney-based entrepreneur, influencer and journalist Jody Phan says seeing another Vietnamese-Australian face on prime-time TV is a “wonderful step forward” for media diversity, as she can’t recall a relatable figure like Vo on her screen while growing up.
“I was constantly seeing celebrities who were blonde and white on TV screens and magazines so that’s all that I had to look up to,” she told HuffPost Australia.
Phan was born in Vietnam and migrated to Australia with her parents and brother when she was eight years old. Like Tracy – who has previously said her parents “wanted us to fit in and they thought it would be easier for Australians to call us by our English names” – Jody battled with being caught between two cultures.
“I do think that coming from Vietnam and then being catapulted into grade three at a Sydney school meant that I had a desire to assimilate quickly in order to fit in with the new culture I’d found myself in,” said Jody.
Growing up with idols such Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Bunton from the Spice Girls, and the Backstreet Boys presented a “theme” in pop culture influences, with Jody saying, “I wasn’t so aware of it as a kid, but looking back, I recognise that it did shape my outlook on beauty and body image for a number of years”.
On Wednesday Tracy Vo was announced as the new Today newsreader for 2020, making her the only regular Asian presenter on an Australian breakfast show on commercial television.
“I’m looking forward to a time when this kind of announcement isn’t even ‘news’ because it’s commonplace to have a Vietnamese presenter on morning TV, but for now it’s a wonderful step forward,” Jody said about Channel Nine’s news.
While she hasn’t faced discrimination for her surname in her journalism career to date, she acknowledged more ethnic faces on TV will help young Asian-Australians who feel othered because of their names.
“I’ve been lucky in my past experience with the media industry that I was never made to feel less than capable because of my Vietnamese surname,” she said.
“But I certainly notice the lack of Asian surnames in commercial TV and that’s where I think that TV executives could learn from YouTube and Netflix who are at the forefront of diversity.”
Like many other Asian-Australians, it’s been a gradual journey of self-discovery, but Jody’s ultimately proud to have maintained a “deep connection to my Vietnamese roots” through her relatives across the sea.
“I’m grateful that I was so close with my family in Vietnam before I left for Australia because it’s helped to keep me connected with my cultural identity whilst embracing Australian life at the same time.”