Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism

The Troubling Lack of Asian Faces in Australian Media

Part one of a two part series examining the lack of diversity in Australian media.

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Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism

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Recently, McDonalds Australia released a series of television ads as part of its Australia Day campaign. Two of these ads are near identical with almost the same narration and cast. One of them features an Asian guy while the other does not and this has subtly put the spotlight once again on the lack of Asian faces in Australian media.

It does seem odd that McDonalds Australia has taken the trouble to produce two television ads that are similar in every aspect except for a few seconds near the beginning and end in celebration of Australia Day. One of the ads features an Asian guy called “Stevo” eating McDonalds and his Asian parents for roughly five seconds. The other advertisement is entirely the same, except in place of “Stevo”, two Caucasians called “Gordo ‘n’ Sonny” are shown instead. This has led to an article that suggests poor “Stevo” was not deemed “Aussie” enough for the television ad(s) that attempts to showcase the quintessential Australian(s). Or perhaps he was not “Aussie” enough to appeal to a certain (Anglo) audience one of the ads was supposedly targeting.

At the very least, such an incident subliminally reminds us once again of the fact that there are few Asian-Australians in Australia media today. Judging from the two almost identical McDonalds ads where in one of them Asian “Stevo” was featured ever so briefly, it gives rise to the inkling that it is rather troublesome to place an Asian face or voice within Australian mainstream media. Where do they fit?

In line with the phenomenon of the lack of Asian faces in Australian media, independent news analysis website The Conversation points out that although the White Australian Policy ended in 1975 and there was the establishment of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in 1973 and SBS in 1978/9 with governmental mandate of providing voice to a growing multicultural society, Asian-Australian “stories and faces stay on SBS”. In addition, studies have proposed that Asians are often discriminated in local mainstream media, especially within media coverage of Asian immigration and “boat people”.

No doubt it is perplexing that Asian faces and voices are uncommon on Australian television and commercial radio. The 2011 Census reveals roughly 2.4 million or 12% of the population comprise Australians of Asian heritage, which is more than a tenth of the nation’s residents. As such, Australians of Asian descent constitute a considerable proportion of the population and so it would only be fitting to see and hear regular Asian personas and opinions in the media, showcasing the true diversity of Australia.

Reasons behind the lack of Asians in Australian media

One can speculate the reasons behind the lack of and more often than not negative representations of Asians in Australian mainstream media. Racism towards Asians Down Under is seemingly one of them.

In 2011, an Energy Watch ad was pulled from television screens for racially and negatively stereotyping Indians as “doorknockers”. The ad shows an Indian salesman with a strong Indian accent convincing a Caucasian Australian couple to switch to his electricity company, offering them a lucrative discount on their bills. A blonde Caucasian “heroine” then steps in to warn the couple that they should shop around first before making a decision and blows a whistle in the Indian man’s face.

The fact that this Energy Watch ad, embedded with racist ideals, was callously approved and initially given the green light to be broadcasted to the Australian public by media authorities is no doubt demeaning towards Indians. Such a decision gives rise to the idea that xenophobic behaviour towards Asians, in particular Indians, exists among some Australians. In addition, this incident occurred in a decade today where many local jobs are increasingly outsourced overseas to developing Asian countries such as India and China. Cheap, shoddy labour is commonly associated with mass manufacturing in developing regions, so perhaps this sentiment stimulated the creation of such an ad depicting an Indian person offering “dodgy” deals/services.

In 2011, the inclusion of an Indian family in long-running drama Neighbours which is known to have a predominantly white cast sparked racist comments from some viewers on the program’s official website. Some said it was “un-Australian” to include this Asian family regularly in the program. As such, xenophobic attitudes towards Asian groups are evident within the community and some do prefer to see and hear Anglo-Saxon faces and voices in the media. Thus, there is the likelihood that Australian mainstream media constantly favours featuring Anglo Saxons over minority groups in order to appease the “white media palate” of the majority of the population (media audiences) who are Caucasian.

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2 thoughts on “The Troubling Lack of Asian Faces in Australian Media”

  1. Well written Mabel! Can’t wait to read part 2 of the series! Not many Australians are aware that the Chinese community have been in Australia since the Gold Rush (1850s) era and it’s disappointing that this community still continues to suffer from discrimination.

    It’s also very disappointing that we don’t get a lot of diversity in Australian media. But then again, there’s not a lot of CALD journalists in print and online journalism as well. Not sure whether aspiring Asian journalists are deliberately singled out. I mean there are Asian journalists, but very very small amount. Hope I’m not starting a conspirarcy theory here!

    1. That’s a very valid point Hsin-Yi – there aren’t many CALD journalists in print and online journalism and media.

      However, if there was more CALD and/or Asian reporters or journalists, it really doesn’t guarantee that there will be more diverse representations in the media in terms of news stories/reporting. These journalists could report and investigate stories not pertaining to ethnic minorities if that’s their cup of tea.

      I think I am opening up a can of worms here.

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