Cameraman’s stunningly racist remark
It never occurred to Layla* that her Lebanese background would be a hindrance to a career in TV journalism.
But when she started in a TV newsroom she was genuinely surprised at the racist or racially charged comments that were directed her way.
"I was told my accent was too 'woggy', and that's exactly the word they would use," she told news.com.au. "I was told that several times. I was told to 'tone down' my look so I could look more ethnically ambiguous, and I'm curvy so my weight was brought up a lot.
"I never thought my background would be a disadvantage in my career, which I think is why those comments came as such a shock.
"I thought my background would help boost my career - to be able to speak a second language, to look a little different, and that was relatable to a lot of people. I thought that news directors would think the same thing, but they really didn't."
The worst incident Layla encountered was on assignment to cover to story from a mosque, when her cameraman refused to film inside.
"When I asked him why, he said 'They're just a bunch of t***lheads."
When Layla filed a formal complaint about her colleague's racist remark to her network's HR department, the cameraman faced no consequences.
"Nothing was done, absolutely nothing," she said. "I wasn't given an apology, he wasn't reprimanded or fired. He's actually still working in the industry.
"I've witnessed many racist comments in newsrooms, lots of anti-Muslim sentiment. I think about what was said by these people who are telling the news, writing the news, producing the news, and it makes me sick. I was crying at some points."
Layla's experiences strike at the heart of the results in a Media Diversity Australia report released yesterday which found Australians from non-Anglo-Celtic and non-European backgrounds only accounted for 11.4 per cent of on-air talent in news programming, compared to 24 per cent of the wider population.
Broken down by network, and without the boosting factor of SBS's diverse line-up, the numbers look even worse - only 3 per cent of Channel 9's on-air talent and 4.8 per cent of Channel 7's on-air talent were from diverse backgrounds.
An Australian media that doesn't reflect the diversity of its audiences has many flow-on effects, including the kinds of stories viewers get to see and hear, and how those stories are framed and presented.
Layla, who has almost a decade of experience in commercial and non-commercial TV newsrooms and asked to change her name so she could speak with candour, has seen first-hand the effect this has on the audiences at home.
"We're losing our audiences - a lot of media engagement numbers reflect that," she said. "People are switching off and that's because they're not seeing the stories that reflect a diverse Australia. It's just one sort of lens of what Australia looks like.
"I can't tell you how many times I've approached different cultural communities to help with stories and the first response I hear is 'I don't trust the media, last time they painted me in a negative light even though I gave a positive interview' or 'they were harassing me'."
In addition to the headline numbers from the "Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories?" report, there are the scathing indictment from those working in the industry.
A survey conducted for the report, in which 314 TV broadcast workers self-selected to participate, found 70 per cent of those working in the industry perceived the media industry as having poor or very poor cultural diversity.
However, among the survey respondents, people under 35 tended to mark their industry more negatively while those over 65 were more favourable.
The same survey found 79 per cent of respondents believed that culturally diverse men and women experienced more barriers when attempting to secure on-air jobs.
Noah* was born in Australia, holds a double degree and has more than 10 years of experience in the industry in commercial and non-commercial networks, across regional and metropolitan newsrooms.
He has frequently wondered why his CV was overlooked for candidates with less qualifications and experience.
"I wonder if my name had been different, what that would have meant," he told news.com.au.
"I've been given feedback such as 'people might see your eyebrows and be distracted', little things like that. I definitely didn't expect comments like that, and when it's continuous, it isn't pleasant at all."
Noah didn't want to start his career at SBS just because he "fit the mould" there - "I wanted to prove I could break into commercial TV, which I did" - but it was suggested to him repeatedly that SBS was where he should be.
"I've had that comment a few times, especially from people who saw potential in me but thought, realistically, our industry wouldn't embrace me."
He said that all those little remarks and discouragements has only made him more resilient.
"You can't let it define you, but you can let it make you stronger."
But he knows that not seeing more faces like his on TV normalises its absence for audiences at home, which could lead to changes being perceived as "tokenism" or "diversity picks".
Layla argued that unless the TV broadcast industry makes meaningful changes, the audience decline will only hasten.
"When you look at the ratings and the demographics that are switching on, you can tell who's watching and who isn't, who's engaged and who isn't and where they come from.
"A lot of young people are moving to alternative forms of news - international news, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram - from someone who looks like them.
"So why aren't we implementing that in our newsrooms? It's a no-brainer, it should be simple. That's the best way to win audiences back, but we're not doing that at all."
That's a view backed up Macquarie University Professor Catharine Lumby, one of the report's authors, who said: "I think one of the push factors will be media organisations who are already struggling with changing business models recognising that a culturally diverse workforce makes them more attractive to culturally diverse audiences.
"It's good for the bottom line."
* Names were changed to protect identities
Originally published as Cameraman's stunningly racist remark