Stan Grant, a well-known Aboriginal journalist and soon-to-be former host of Q+A, has made a stand against racist abuse, saying he is ‘stepping away’ from the media industry. Grant said he’s paid a heavy price for being a journalist and has been a media target for racism.
As authors of a recent Media Diversity Australia report investigating online abuse and safety of diverse journalists, we’re not surprised.
Grant was one the few diverse journalists employed in the Australian media industry. Yet his story of relentless racial abuse is one shared by other journalists who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and racially marginalised, LGBTQIA+ and/or living with disability.
I want no part of it. I want to find a place of grace far from the stench of the media. I want to go where I am not reminded of the social media sewer.
Racism across the media
The latest round of racially motivated abuse came after Grant hosted the ABC’s coverage of the coronation of King Charles.
Since the King’s coronation, I have seen people in the media lie and distort my words. They have tried to depict me as hate filled. They have accused me of maligning Australia.
When Elizabeth II died, many Indigenous journalists and newsreaders were targeted for not sharing the same grief many non-Indigenous people expressed. Narelda Jacobs was one of many Aboriginal journalists who received abuse across social media and was also targeted by mainstream media.
Grant called the ABC’s lack of support an ‘institutional failure’, saying:
I am writing this because no-one at the ABC – whose producers invited me onto their coronation coverage as a guest – has uttered one word of public support.
In response to Grant’s column, a statement was issued from the ABC’s Director News, Justin Stevens, conceding Grant has, over many months, been subject to grotesque racist abuse, including threats to his safety.
The ABC’s Bonner Committee has recommended a full review into the ABC’s responses to racism affecting staff and how they can better support their staff.
What our research found
Our report, Online Safety of Diverse Journalists, commissioned by Media Diversity Australia and released this month, focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and racially marginalised, LGBTQIA+ and/or people living with disability.
This new research followed a 2022 Media Diversity Australia report, Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories 2.0, which detailed significant under-representation of diverse journalists in the industry, particularly Indigenous people and those from culturally and racially marginalised groups.
Our new report focused more on online safety and the high cost for diverse journalists who are often not supported or protected in the workplace. It found 85% of participants had experienced either personal or professional abuse online.
As one participant said:
It’s so ingrained within all parts of society, all the pillars within society, all professions, which includes the media, and I think women, particularly women of colour and from Indigenous backgrounds, they receive the most horrific and vile abuse.
The report has not yet gained interest from the Australian media other than The Fourth Estate who expressed alarm at the findings.
One of the key findings from this research was that diverse journalists often accepted that online harassment and abuse from the public was ‘just part of the job‘. Many reported they were working in what they considered ‘hostile work environments’.
One participant expressed:
As soon as you say you are a journalist, the response is: you are asking for it.
It was concerning to find the normalisation of online harassment and abuse, and many diverse journalists were reluctant to report their experiences for fear of being considered a problem. Many felt if they raised the issue it would impact any chance of career progression.
A participant commented:
I am cautious revealing my struggles because I don’t want people to think I can’t handle my job.
In his recent experience, Grant said:
Aboriginal people learn to tough it out. That’s the price of survival.
Organisations have a duty of care to their employees. Online harassment and abuse of diverse journalists is a work health and safety issue and needs to be urgently treated as such.
The impact and cost to diverse journalists is high, and many make the same choice as Grant – to leave the industry to protect themselves and their health. Many spoke about how harassment and abuse was not only online; 39% reported the abuse moved offline.
When it comes to thinking about who gets to tell Australian stories or who gets to have a career as a journalist free of harassment and abuse, the Media Diversity Australia report evidences the hostility of the media industry for those who are not white, able bodied, and/or cis-gender and/or heterosexual.
The report also shows, as Grant points out, that online harassment and abuse actively and incessantly targets Indigenous journalists. Although many of the participants stated they were unofficially warned by their workplace to expect online violence, they said they received little support to protect and defend them from racial harassment and abuse.
I started to see exactly what I’d been warned about (…) But there was no mechanism to flag that to say that you had received a racist email to send it somewhere where that person could be put on a watch list or whatever it is, you know, where they’re going to become a serial offender.
Grant echoes the experiences of many participants when he says:
Barely a week goes by when I am not racially targeted.
The research report also reveals that workplace and online harassment in media industry involves fairly predictable culprits. As one participant highlighted, they come from a similar demographic – white men.
Grant’s resignation is a huge loss to Australian journalism. He and other diverse journalists nationally are crying out for action on the part of media bodies and organisations.
There are many other diverse journalists who have left the profession prior to Grant’s departure. One of our interviewees contacted us to say:
If a serious and well respected journalist feels the best thing to do is leave and has had no support from work – what does that mean for the rest of us?
Let’s hope the media industry is finally paying attention.
Bronwyn Carlson, Professor, Indigenous Studies and Director of The Centre for Global Indigenous Futures, Macquarie University; Faith Valencia-Forrester, Lecturer and Lawyer, Griffith University; Madi Day, Lecturer, Department of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University, and Susan Forde, Director, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University