Diversity in Media: Australian TV needs to wake up


Are Indians represented well enough in mainstream Australian media? The answer is a definite no. We all know it’s quite blatant when it comes to the media and ethnic representation. We know there’s a problem. But how do we change this around? How do we have more Indians, Asians and other ethnic faces on TV?

Even during the peak Cricket season it’s rare to see an Indian cricket star as the brand ambassador of any ad campaign on Australian TV. Forget brand ambassadors. That is too much to ask. Visiting Indian cricketers hardly get invited to TV studios to discuss cricket. The mainstream press hardly interviews them.

In India, on the other hand, most Australian cricketers, when they tour India, are invited to TV studios, they endorse major brands, get hired by IPL teams, so on and so forth. So how do we get this to happen here? It’s important for us to build this campaign for the need for diversity in the media. It isn’t easy for all budding actors to become Pallavi Sharada. Bollywood should not be the only platform for artistes from an Indian background. We need to find a way to work with the local TV, press and the film industry.

If you analyse the issue, it’s simple. Most script-writers and producers are just not comfortable having Indian faces in their narratives. They may not mind Indian food, they may have coffee with Indian colleagues, and they may have Indian families in their suburbs, but when it comes to television or film or newspaper articles Indians or Asians are just not good enough. They don’t fit the stereotypical image of Australia these creates stubbornly cling to. Actors like Sachin Joab (read interview inside) are forced to look for work in America, India, the UK and Canada as they find the local industry has very little opportunities. Australian actors from all backgrounds should have a greater presence in stories about contemporary Australia. This will make television more appealing and relevant to ever larger sections of society.

These challenges are not unique to Australia. In India there is a growing debate for the screen to have a greater place for actors who are not ‘fair skinned Indians’. Actress Nandita Das is one of the ambassadors for this campaign. Like the Australian TV audience, we know that in India there’s an obsession for fair skin. Hollywood was no better, but intense grassroot campaigns have changed things a lot. In 2015, we have an interesting year ahead in American TV: with the successful debuts of Empire, Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish, Jane the Virgin, and How to Get Away With Murder, TV in the USA has a lot of ethnic faces these days.

Turning a blind eye to this issue comes naturally to our television industry’s decision makers. However, we need to find a way to make it known to them that change is necessary and urgent. Ignoring diversity will continue to limit the growth of an industry that has huge untapped potential. Australia can make TV programs with a South Asian cast aimed for domestic as well as overseas markets. We have to find a way to force our complacent and backward looking decision makers to get moving on this front.

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