Reporting Diversity
Television News 2007 Study

Gail Phillips, Murdoch University;
May 2008



Executive Summary

This is the second study funded by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship examining the way in which Australia’s television news represents people from different ethnic backgrounds.  The first study in 2005 was a three-city analysis (Perth, Sydney, Shepparton) which itself built on an original pilot analysis of the Perth television news services in 2001).  This 2007 study, now including a fourth centre Townsville, is therefore the third part of what has evolved into a longitudinal study examining the trends in television news between 2001 and 2007. 

The 2007 study provides the opportunity to observe if and how things have progressed since the last snapshot, and allows more confident conclusions that can hopefully be the basis for recommendations to improve future practice.

Where the 2005 study suggested that EM news could be categorised as ‘sad, bad, mad and/or other’, in 2007 we learn that it is far more like to be ‘sad, bad, mad, or non-existent’. Where the Australian news agenda is not dominated by hysterical panic over terrorists and Muslim extremists, the country’s non-Anglo communities fundamentally become even more invisible – except when they make news as villains or victims.

Note: We have applied an established academic label (Ethnic Minority, EM) to describe the people from Non-Anglo backgrounds whose presence we are tracking in Australia’s television news. This is because it appeared the most inclusive and least contentious of available terms to cover this widely diverse demographic.

The main conclusions are:

1. Total EM content
Compared to 2005, where EM content was inflated by domestic terror scares, total EM content in Australia’s television has dropped (from 7.3% to 4.6%), with the exception of SBS where levels are up (from 40% to 45%). 

2. International and Domestic EM content
Compared to 2005 where EM content was concentrated in domestic news (International 38%,  Domestic 62%), in 2007 EM content was concentrated in international news (International 52%, Domestic  48%).

3. Top EM content Category
In 2005 EM stories were concentrated in the Crime category
(41% of all EM news, compared to 9% of non-EM news). 
The top category for Non-EM stories was Courts and Justice (13% ), but note that 25% of EM stories were in this category.

In 2007 the EM stories were concentrated in the Military and Diplomatic category (24%), reflecting international rather than domestic content. The top category for Non-EM News was Politics (20%), compared to EM where at 19% it was second highest category.

4. Story type
In 2005, the top story type was Courts/Crime/Disaster which represented  72% of all EM news, compared to 29% of all non-EM news.
In 2007, the top category for both EM and Non-EM is Power and Policy
(EM 47%; Non-EM 27%). Second category for both is Courts/Crime/Disasters (EM 30%; Non-EM 25%)

5. Story Tone
In 2005, 70% of EM news was in the Negative category.  In 2007, a comparison was made between EM and Non-EM.  While Negative levels were down, EM news was still more negative than Non-EM news (53% compared to 29%).  There was also less Neutral news (EM 21%, Non-EM 34%) and less positive EM news (EM 26%, Non-EM 37%).

6. The main conclusions of the 2005 survey were that EM communities were portrayed as ‘bad’, ‘sad’,  ‘mad’ or ‘other’; they were depicted either as passive victims or aggressive threats to society; they were distinguished as ‘alien’ through behaviour or clothing; and they were explicitly or implicitly identified as ‘other’.  In 2007 there appeared to be a return to a more ‘normal’ news agenda, with lower levels of EM content, but this only made these characteristics stand out more starkly. EM communities continue to be featured as ‘mad’ ‘bad’, or ‘sad’. EM talent was rarely featured in the role of expert, or in crowd scenes or vox pops.

7. There are ways news practice can be adjusted to ensure the nightly bulletins reflect a more accurate picture of the Australian community by

  • selecting for diversity in crowd shots, vox pops and expert talent.
  • Allowing EM communities to speak for themselves rather than being spoken about or spoken for.
  • By taking care with subtitles to avoid the creation of artificial distance between EM talent and the general public
  • Expanding the reporter base to include more reporters from EM backgrounds

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Member : Murdoch UniversityMember: Griffith UniversityMember: University of South AustraliaMember: Media MonitorsMember: SBSMember: University of CanberraMember: Journalism Education AssociationMember: University of Western Sydney
Department of Immigration and Citizenship