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Aunty to embrace diversity

11 May 20160 comments

Australia’s national broadcaster is set to adopt greater diversity with new ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie pledging more diverse voices and content.

Michelle Guthrie, ABC Managing Director

Michelle Guthrie, ABC Managing Director

In her first day on the job Ms Guthrie sent an email to ABC staff saying: “We must extend our reach and relevance” and “that means more diversity in both our staff and content”.

The former Singapore-based Google executive is the ABC’s first female managing director.

In the email introducing herself to staff, Ms Guthrie also said: “Australia is changing and we need to change with it.

“Shaped by my background and work experience, I passionately believe that the ABC should be relevant to all citizens.”

Her predecessor, Mark Scott, also believed the ABC had fallen short of broader diversity.

At the same time, ABC radio staff members have been instructed to tackle unconscious bias about who they put on air by throwing out “old ideas and assumptions about the average Aussie” and making sure their election broadcasts contain a “healthy mix of ethnicities and accents”.

The edict is contained in another email to staff by ABC head of radio Michael Mason, and came just hours after Ms Guthrie’s message promising that boosting diversity at the public broadcaster would be one of her top priorities.

Ms Guthrie’s predecessor Mark Scott and said one of his regrets from his 10 years in the job was that the ABC still did not reflect the ethnic diversity of modern Australia and women were under-represented on air.

The moves come as some politicians have mooted a merger between the ABC and SBS.

In his email, Mr Mason said ABC staff needed to ask themselves questions such as: “Do we however unconsciously avoid using talent because they have a ‘difficult’ accent?”

The email also asked staff to consider other questions around diversity and pondered: “Who are the voices we constantly hear on air? Who could we find who might be fresher or could add some different views?”

“Do our experts include a decent balance between men and women? Do they contain a healthy mix of ethnicities and accents? Could we set ourselves a target for finding X number of new voices during this campaign?” the email continued.

Mr Mason asked: “How do we make sure that we’re not basing our scripts and interviews on old ideas and assumptions about the average Aussie?”; and “do we sound like we know that our listeners are people of differing ages, education, affluence, religious beliefs and sexualities? Are people with disabilities being heard?”

Mr Mason told staff: “ABC Radio aims to look and sound more like Australia by 2020. To do this, we have to take every opportunity to make more diverse and inclusive content.

“Our measure of diversity is pretty simple: do the voices we’re putting on air across the week reflect the broad range of people living in our communities?” he said.

ABC Radio has formed a Diversity Action Group that aims “to have a workforce that truly represents the diversity of the Australian population” within four years.

Mr Mason directed staff to links explaining why it is important to hear people with different voices on the radio and how the poor are often excluded from the media.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Staff Writer