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The Australian media industry is doomed to continue churning out controversial and often racist opinion pieces, for diminishing returns, unless newsrooms and their owners become more diverse, experts say.
A recent report from the anti-racism body All Together Now (ATN) analysed 315 racialised opinion pieces published across Australia over 12 months. The report’s authors found that 89% were authored by writers of an Anglo/Celtic or European background, 53% them involved negative depictions of race and 89% used techniques of covert racism.
“It reflects poorly,” said Antoinette Lattouf, a director at Media Diversity Australia and a senior journalist at Channel Ten. She told the Guardian the ATN report, released in October, highlighted the malaise gripping the industry.
“The problem with the broader news business model is that it is struggling,” she says. “It’s struggling to sustain quality, independent and good journalism. And opinion pieces are easier to write and cost less.”
The ATN report, which recommended the building of cultural competency and racial literacy within newsrooms and diversifying hires, analysed opinion pieces published by a range of mainstream Australian media outlets between April 2019 and April 2020. Its findings pointed to the “racialisation” of the coronavirus, saying that the language used in some of the pieces contributed to and perpetuated racism against Asian and Asian-Australian people.
Dr Usha Rodrigues, a senior lecturer in journalism at Deakin University, said the findings were unsurprising and reflected the current media ownership model in Australia.
“You would have to look at the existing structure of the media industry in Australia – a very high level of concentration of commercial media ownership, and the existence of the two public service broadcasters to mitigate the agenda of commercial media,” she said.
“To some extent, all of the responsibility of being fair, balanced and representative of Australia has been relegated to the two public service broadcasters.”
In 2016, a landmark study on media ownership around the world, Who Owns the World’s Media?, was published and found that Australia had the third most concentrated newspaper industry in the world, behind China and Egypt.
To Rodrigues, the diversification of newsrooms was about reflecting changing demographics in Australia and improving a financial model that had left many mastheads struggling.
“This is a miscalculation on the part of commercial media, which are already reeling from increased competition from social media as a source of news; the entry of international media competitors (at the national level news); and of course the shifting of advertising dollars to online platforms.