In the newly released study, Seeing Ourselves: Reflections on Diversity in TV Drama, every drama released between 2011 and 2015, all 199 of them, were studied in order to analyse minority representation in mass media and compare it with actual representation in the Australian population. A total of 199 shows were looked at.
Among the study’s finding is that 18% of main characters in the period were from non-Anglo Celtic backgrounds, compared to 32% of the population. 4% of main characters had an identified disability compared to 18% of Australians, whilst 5% were identified as LGBTQI – a group that makes up 11% of the population.
Of the methodology employed, Rebecca Mostyn, Manager of Research and Strategy at Screen Australia, noted, “The 1,961 main and recurring characters across all 199 dramas in the five year period were analysed by identifiable cultural background, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity. The results were then mapped against the cultural backgrounds of the actors playing these characters based on their country of birth and that of their parents. Both measures were compared to Government data on the population.”
The study found that 64% of programs included at least one character which was not Anglo-Celtic, and that children’s shows and comedies tended to be more diverse than other dramas.
However, Indigenous representation is on the rise. The 2002 study, Broadcast in Colour, found that there were no Indigenous Australians in permanent roles on Australian TV, rising to two in total by 1999. The latest study shows that 5% of main characters are Indigenous, compared to 3% of the population identifying as such. This rise is attirbuted to work done by Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department, the ABC’s Indigenous Department, and organisations such as Blackfella Films, Brindle Films, CAAMA, Goolarri Media, and more.
“You cannot underestimate how powerful it is for Indigenous people to turn on the TV and see a face that looks like their own,” said Penny Smallacombe, Head of Indigenous at Screen Australia. “Whilst overall diversity on Australian screens clearly has a very long way to go, what the Indigenous experience shows is when you have Indigenous decision makers within funding bodies and broadcasters, coupled with initiatives that support Indigenous writers, directors, producers and actors, diversity and good entertainment can be one in the same.”
However, disabled Australians remain underrepresented, with only 10% of dramas having a minimum of one character with a disability, as do LGBTQI Australians.
“With 94% of Australians watching TV regularly, the medium remains powerful and influential, so the need for greater diversity is essential and we have been buoyed by the industry enthusiasm to engage with this study,” said Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia. “We don’t want tokenism, but we don’t want inaction either. Now we have the numbers, we need to work out a path towards diversity on screens together that is genuine, lasting and both creatively and commercially fulfilling.”
To read the full study, head to the Screen Australia website.