ABC News Breakfast hosts Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli.
ABC News Breakfast hosts Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli.

ABC planning talent shake-up

Australia's national broadcaster is pushing for 50 per cent female representation among on-air talent by the end of 2020 as part of a major gender diversity drive.

The ABC's "50:50 Project", which kicked off in December last year and mirrors a similar initiative at the BBC, also involves "commissioning more content across the ABC News network that women find relevant and interesting", the broadcaster said in a blog post on Thursday.

"Teams record the gender of interviewees," the ABC said.

"They measure what they can control. In News, for instance, we would not count someone, such as the Prime Minister, who is critical to a particular story but we would count an expert commentator, as we can choose whether we hear from a male or female expert. The data then forms part of the regular editorial meetings."

Despite this, the ABC stresses that "the golden rule is to always interview the best person for the story, regardless of gender".

This "new, grassroots approach" has been rolled out to multiple newsrooms across the ABC network over the past few months.

"Hassle-free data collection and daily conversations about talent choices have helped to significantly raise the awareness of the importance of unearthing new diverse female voices to include in our programming," it said.

The introduction of the quota system for expert talent, commentators and contributors was brought in after data analysis found "we interview men far more often than we do women, and we're also under-representing women from indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds".

"Quite simply, we're doing this project to make our journalism better and ensure we're relevant to more Australians," the ABC said.

"Women represent more than half the population of Australia and we have an obligation to represent as wide a variety of their views as possible, and ensure our stories speak to them on topics and issues that are important to them."

In late December, the ABC put a call-out for women to nominate themselves to be added to a database of experts. More than 4500 people responded and 1000 were added to the database after "careful vetting".

"Many of them have since been used across news programming," it said.

The policy has not been universally embraced, however, with some ABC employees describing it as a "ridiculous".

It's understood there have been instances where segments have been canned because female talent could not be found, and in other cases male guests have had bookings cancelled at the last minute.

One talent representative, who asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardising her relationship with the ABC, said a number of her clients had been pulled from scheduled appearances "because they've been white men".

She says that on one occasion, after pressing for an explanation, she was told "you know that it's all about diversity for us". "For them they're prioritising diversity of gender or skin colour but not ideas," she said.

An ABC spokeswoman said, "We're not aware of this happening, nor has any actual example been provided. If someone believes it has, they should bring it to the attention of the project leads, as it would show a misunderstanding of the goals of the project."

 

frank.chung@news.com.au


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