ABC staff demand Ita Buttrose and David Anderson ensure diversity not 'just a cliche'

Open letter says ABC executive must ensure different cultural perspectives are reflected in content

ABC staff have written to Ita Buttrose and David Anderson calling on them to ensure that diversity at the national broadcaster “won’t be just a cliche” after cuts.

Lifestyle portal ABC Life has been slated to lose nine staff in a round of 250 redundancies, and many of the unit’s staff are from non-English speaking backgrounds and relatively young.

In the open letter, which was also addressed to the director of regional and local, Judith Whelan, who runs ABC Life, staff demand the executive maintain a “truly diverse cultural mix” in remaining ABC Life staff and ensure different cultural perspectives are reflected in content-making and commissioning.

“According to its most recent Diversity and Inclusion Report, 9.4% of the ABC’s content makers are from a non-English speaking background,” the letter says. “In the ABC Life team, this percentage is more than 45%.”

ABC Life was set up in 2018 to connect the ABC with audiences that did not traditionally identify with the ABC, including younger people and migrants.

“It’s devastating news and the details are unclear right now, but what I know for sure is I’m really proud of what we’ve built, telling diverse stories the ABC has never told before,” ABC Life editor Bhakthi Puvanenthiran said when the cuts were announced.

The ABC has been forced to find savings after the Coalition put in place an “indexation freeze” that led to a $41m funding shortfall this year, part of the $783m in funding lost since the Coalition came to power in 2013. The cuts went ahead despite the Coalition pledging in opposition that there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS.

The letter was sent after Guardian Australian revealed an executive who has championed diversity at the ABC has had her role abolished.

Andrea Ho, the head of planning for the regional and local division, is on the diversity and inclusion committee and co-chairs the staff-led group ABC Belong.

Concerns about the ABC’s diversity came a week after SBS staff pleaded with the board to appoint someone other than a white Anglo man as news director to reflect the station’s multicultural charter, and former staff revealed they had been subjected to racism at SBS.

SBS managing director James Taylor told staff this week he would appoint two Indigenous elders in residence “to provide support and cultural empowerment to staff” and train a number of “SBS inclusion champions” as part of measures to address the concerns.

“I see this as our moment in time to enhance those attributes that make SBS an extraordinary place, with an extraordinary team, and implement some positive changes to make us a leading inclusive workplace – not just in the media sector, but across all industries,” Taylor told staff.

In the ABC’s five-year plan unveiled by Anderson last month it says the corporation’s purpose derives from its charter – “that is, to serve all Australians through media services that reflect the cultural diversity of Australia”.

Staff say ABC Life consistently addresses issues around race, sexuality and diversity as well as reaching new, younger audiences.

“It has also become a much-needed platform for journalism by members of the community with disability,” they say. “We are concerned no plans have been outlined to maintain ABC Life’s diversity – both within the team makeup and the content it creates – through the rebrand and associated redundancies.”

A spokesman for the ABC said its commitment to diversity and inclusion strategies had not diminished.

“The ABC will continue to focus on diversity and inclusion in our workplace and in our content to ensure the ABC looks and sounds like contemporary Australia,” he said.

“In regional & local, the responsibility for ensuring we meet our diversity and inclusion targets rests with the entire leadership group, not just one person. This group reports directly to the director of regional & local, Judith Whelan, who is committed to not only meeting the targets set, but exceeding them.

“The ABC currently has 9.2% of its content makers who come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD).”

An earlier version of this article said 13.7% of ABC content makers come from a culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD). The correct the figure for the percentage of CALD content makers at the ABC is 9.2%. The ABC had told us it was 13.7%, but that figure is for all staff who come from a CALD background.


Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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