Australia Reckons With TV Host’s Exit Over Racist Abuse
When one of Australia’s most high-profile journalists announced he would step away from his television hosting duties because of racist abuse, it sent shock waves through the country’s media industry.
The journalist, Stan Grant, said on Friday in an opinion piece for his employer’s website that he and his family had suffered “relentless” racial abuse after he talked, during the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s coverage of the coronation of King Charles III, about colonial-era violence unleashed on Australia’s Indigenous people.
Mr. Grant has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is a familiar presence on TV screens as the host of the national broadcaster’s popular current affairs talk show “Q+A.” On Monday, in his final appearance on the show for now, he said that the attacks from social media and other outlets had distorted his words and had taken a toll.
“To those who have abused me and my family, I would just say — if your aim was to hurt me, well, you’ve succeeded,” he said, adding that his time away would be temporary. “I’m down right now, I am. But I will get back up. And you can come at me again, and I will meet you with the love of my people.”
In his opinion piece, he accused his employer, the ABC, of “institutional failure.” No one at the company, even those who had invited him to participate in the coronation coverage, “has uttered one word of public support,” he said.
“I take time off because we have shown again that our history — our hard truth — is too big, too fragile, too precious for the media,” he wrote. “The media sees only battle lines, not bridges. It sees only politics.”
In the coronation segment, Mr. Grant spoke about how an “exterminating war” had been declared on his people, the Wiradjuri tribe, in the name of the crown. The coronation ceremony was not, he said, “something that is distant, that is just ceremonial that doesn’t hold weight. It holds weight for First Nations people, because that crown put a weight on us, and we are still dealing with that.”
The ABC received a number of complaints from viewers who thought the segment was overly critical. Two prominent radio hosts said the coverage “totally misread the mood” and was “bile,” while some news articles labeled Mr. Grant’s comments as “tirades” and a “rant.” Other panelists critical of the monarchy said they did not receive the same level of vitriol as Mr. Grant.
While Australia celebrates its multiculturalism, it lags behind other Western countries in the diversity of its government, boardrooms and media institutions, and is still reckoning with a bloody colonial past that has never fully receded. Part of that reckoning will occur later this year, when the nation will hold a referendum on whether to enshrine in the Constitution a body to advise the government on Indigenous issues.
The announcement of Mr. Grant’s leave inspired other Indigenous and nonwhite journalists to speak out, detailing the racism they said they had encountered while working and the failure of their workplaces to protect and support them or comprehend the additional challenges they face.
Mr. Grant’s experience highlighted the heavy price Indigenous journalists paid for challenging mainstream perspectives in an industry that has historically excluded their voices, said Narelda Jacobs, a television journalist and presenter with Network 10 who is from the Indigenous Noongar tribe.
“The media in Australia has been unbalanced throughout its history,” she said. “He was trying to be the balance, and then he got attacked for it.”
“When people try to highlight the issues that we have with racism, they are attacked and torn down by a section of the media, and they are silenced,” she added. “And there are not enough culturally safe environments to be able to have these conversations on issues of national importance.”
Although much of the recent criticism has been directed at the ABC, journalists have said the workplace issues are industrywide. The company is one of Australia’s more diverse media organizations, as one of the two government-funded national broadcasters that have a public responsibility mandate that commercial media organizations do not.
On Sunday, the ABC said that it would review how the organization responded to racism affecting its staff, and it issued an apology to Mr. Grant. On Monday, staff at the broadcaster walked off the job in protest of Mr. Grant’s treatment, carrying signs reading #IStandWithStan and #WeRejectRacism.
“It is a bit of a reckoning,” said Mariam Veiszadeh, the chief executive of Media Diversity Australia. Mr. Grant’s absence was being felt so acutely because “there is no one of his caliber, of a First Nations background, of his experience, that can fill the void,” she said, and his departure was a blow to the many young Indigenous and nonwhite journalists who “pin their hopes and aspirations and dreams on people like Stan Grant.”