Asians In Australian Media. Or Rather, The Lack Thereof

Fact: Australia is a multicultural country, a multicultural country where roughly 2.4 million of the population today comprises residents of Asian – Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino etc. – ethnicity.

Fact: There is a lack of Asian faces in Australian mainstream media.

Billboard in Melbourne's Chinatown. Caucasians tend to be featured over ethnic minorities within local tv & radio programs, ads, magazines etc,. Photo: Mabel Kwong.

Billboard in Melbourne’s Chinatown. Caucasians tend to be featured over those of ethnic background within local tv & radio programs, ads, magazines etc.. Photo: Mabel Kwong.

Given Australia’s ever growing Asian population, it would be expected for Asian faces and representations to be constantly featured in local media, showcasing the true make-up and diversity of Australia to the public and the rest of the world.

However, flip on prime-time commercial television or tune in to one of the top-rating radio stations and almost too often you will see and hear predominantly Anglo-Saxon faces, characters, voices, opinions and stories.

Recently, I contributed a two-part series to The Risky Shift – a UK-based online publication providing commentary and academic analysis on international politics and social affairs – titled “The Troubling Lack of Asian Faces in Australian Media”, investigating why this is so.

The first part looks at how McDonalds Australia’s recent Australia Day media campaign exemplifies this phenomenon and looks at the reasons behind the general exclusion of Asians in Australian media.

The second part acknowledges the fact that there are positive portrayals of people of Asian descent in the media Down Under but argues that these depictions neither perpetuate multiculturalism nor encourage us to understand the traditions, values and perspectives of our Asian counterparts.

In short, the series proposes that racism is an emphatic reason as to why Asians are seldom featured in Australian mainstream media.

It also suggests that the presence of Asians in Australian media usually does not appease the “white media palate” of local media audiences, the majority of whom are Caucasian-Australians.

The piece also briefly touches upon the benefits of positive Asian representations in the media. For instance, family-friendly Asian-Australian personalities in Australian media can undoubtedly function as role models for young Asian-Australians to look up to.

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9 thoughts on “Asians In Australian Media. Or Rather, The Lack Thereof

  1. Funny. When I moved to Taiwan, I was amazed by the lack of any “white” people in advertisements. The population of California is very diverse. On any given day I can see Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Mexican people… The list goes on and on, and the advertisements reflect that. In Taiwan I felt like an alien. And, in many senses, I was.

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    • That’s a very strange phenomenon in Taiwan. On a bit of a tangent, quite often in Asia, Asian people featured in these advertisements are made to look as white as possible, emulating the whiteness of Caucasians. Perhaps you felt like an alien in Taiwan because you weren’t used to living there (at least initially). At times here in Australia, I feel like an alien myself when walking through a suburb or town where Caucausians mostly reside.

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  2. I have noticed this too and it bothers me so much!

    For example, on the popular US TV show Revenge the majority of the characters are white save for one female who is black. They recently introduced a new female character who is also black but there are no Asians.

    On the new Australian TV show Please Like Me, they have created a stereotype of a Chinese lady with an accent. She is in her 30s and has an accent and is dating an older white man. Somehow this offends me even though they state in the show that she is not a gold digger.

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    • Ooooh, it bothers you so much! Like it bothers me quite a bit too! 😉

      Perhaps she really is not a gold digger. I suppose that whenever a Chinese female dates and older white man, the stereotype will undoubtedly persist – that’s the way society is. If they had switched roles around and had a white lady date an Asian man, I’m sure we will look at this more favourably.

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  3. Personally, I think a lot of the problem originates from the ABC and SBS. The charter of the ABC is to reflect the Australian identity and it does this with Caucasian faces and lots of TV shows from Britain. The charter of the SBS is to reflect the fact that Australia is a multicultural society, and it does this with “ethnic” faces and TV shows in languages other than English. In this way, the two government broadcasters build an image of what is Australian and what is ethnic.

    These media outlets assimilate the government broadcaster’s approach to the Australian identity when promoting that Australian community look. Perhaps an example of how this acts against Asians could be seen when news chief John Westacott refused to renew the contract of Christine Spiteri and then told her, “with a surname like Spiteri you should try SBS”.

    Spiteri is not Asian origin but aside from her family name, there is nothing to define her as “ethnic” as far as viewers can see. Asians have the name and the face that defines them as ethnic. So when viewers see the Asian face, they don’t experience those triggers of community that they feel are Australian.

    As far as I can gather, Asians seem to have had the most success in getting into the print media where how they look is secondary to what they write.

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  4. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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  5. Pingback: What Exactly Is “Ethnic”? Is The Word “Ethnic” Relevant Anymore Today? | Mabel Kwong

  6. I’m of aboriginal descent and I find it staggering that immigrants of all persuasions are so uptight but something which I consider to be self indulgent to a certain extent so I would like to ask why aren’t there more aboriginals… or black people in general on Australian television in general? Is it that both caucasians and asians are more alike then they care to admit. Both individualistic, materialistic and spoilt perhaps. I’d like to see more “educated immigrants remain in their countries using their skill, edcuation and wealth to improve the lives of the less fortunate. But instead they flee the mess their own created and come here and devour wealth, education and resources forgetting the people they left behind with an enthusiasm to their detriment.

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