New network to champion diversity on Australian screens

August 8, 2017

Collaboration is a powerful force in achieving change, especially the inclusion of people with disability.  The launch of a new Australian network will advocate for greater diversity and inclusion on mainstream Australians screens, better reflecting the diversity of Australian society.

The just-launched Screen Diversity and Inclusion Network (SDIN) brings together many of the biggest players in the Australian media scene, including the nationally-funded broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, free-to-air commercial broadcaster Ten, Foxtel and Australia’s major government film bodies.  Members must sign up to a Charter, which commits them to “providing equal opportunities for all people at all levels, irrespective of their gender, age, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, disability or geographic location.”

The network is based on the successful UK Creative Diversity Network (CDN), which brought together major British media organisations, united in a common approach to increase diversity both on and off screen in the UK.  One member, BBC3, has proven itself a great champion of the cause, recently taking out a CDN Changemaker Award, for its achievements.

Of particular significance is the establishment by the CDN of a measurement and monitoring system, known as “Project Diamond”, which will collect data about the representation of various diversity groups on UK television, so that progress can be measured and transparent.  The SDIN has also committed to establishing industry-wide targets and measuring their performance against them.

Lack of diversity, including disability, on Australian screens, has been the subject of a number of recent national reports - all pointing to the enormous gap between who we see on our screens, and who we live, work and mix within our communities.

The 2016 report by Screen Australia found that people with disability represent just 4% of on-screen characters, while they comprise approximately 17% of the population.  SDIN also points to the recently commissioned report by the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, which noted that we have been talking about the need for greater diversity on our screens for the last 15 years, but there has been little progress.  The AFTRS laments that

Australia’s screen industries have a diversity problem... Despite the multicultural energy and complexity of our contemporary streets, audiences and society, the overwhelming majority of Australia’s screen practitioners and decision-makers continue to be white and able-bodied and in the senior levels of the industry, men.”

This has major consequences- not only is screen content at risk of becoming irrelevant, as it does not reflect its viewer base, but there are commercial impacts as audiences will seek the content they want to see from elsewhere.

The industry is waking up to these issues, and the SDIN has the potential to be the catalyst we need for a sea change on Australian screens resulting in more disability inclusion and better portrayal.

This article by Meg Dalling. Meg is seconded to the Foundation by Founding Sponsor ANZ as part of its ongoing support.

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