ABC director of entertainment and specialist Michael Carrington.

The ABC today launched diversity and inclusion commissioning guidelines for screen content, to better reflect and represent more diverse faces, voices, cultures and stories. Michael Carrington, ABC director entertainment and specialist, explains why.

The global discussion about diversity and inclusion has called out some glaring anachronisms on screen, more suited to the era of Downton Abbey than the 21st century. From #OscarsSoWhite to overlooking the outstanding work of female creatives, there’s much work to be done.

I’m not a huge fan of reality TV but Australian screens could do with a dose of real life. This is not about tallying up the number of faces that are white, black, brown or in between. It’s about recognising that there’s more diversity on an average suburban street than on our screens. And why that’s a problem.

Being exposed to different people and cultures stimulates curiosity, creativity and innovation. It expands our understanding of the world and our place within it. And, frankly, it makes for great TV.

You might ask: What’s a white, middle-class and, sadly, middle-aged man doing speaking out about diversity and inclusion? Well, I am also a gay man and first-generation Australian, whose father was a Russian refugee.

Growing up dirt poor in regional NSW, I was bullied because of my sexuality and my “wog” lunches. I felt alienated. There was nobody like me at school or on my television screen. So, during my teenage years I withdrew from the world.

Diversity comes in many different guises. While I cannot speak to the lived experience of women or people of colour or people living with a disability, I know what it is like to feel excluded and apart.

There is great power in realising you are not alone, that there are others like you. Feeling connected with others gives you the strength to be yourself and belong.

The people and stories we see on screen play a big role in enabling that connection. Inclusion starts with the development process and in the writers’ room. It continues in the studio or on location, behind and in front of the camera.

The ABC Charter requires us to reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community. It’s helped give us outstanding shows such as Stateless, Love on the Spectrum, The Australian Dream and children’s series First Day, which was the first scripted drama with a transgender actor in the lead role to be commissioned for Australian television.

The ABC already prioritises diversity and inclusion in much of what we do and bring to audiences. But like any broadcaster, we have to do more to be authentically inclusive.

Today, we are launching commissioning guidelines for all Entertainment & Specialist and Regional & Local screen content to ensure more diverse faces, voices, cultures and stories are reflected and represented on screen, across genres such as drama, comedy, factual and children’s content.

Our Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines – Screen Content will enable us to do better by working with production companies to provide greater access and opportunity to under-represented people and perspectives, including Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people living with a disability and the LGBTQI+ community.

The guidelines also set out a framework for creating practical opportunities for under-represented groups to gain entry to the industry and advance their careers.

The principle of “nothing about us without us” is key, ensuring that all productions about a specific diverse community or subject must include at least one person who is representative of that diversity within the core creative team.

The guidelines will enrich our programs by including different voices, subjects and talent. They will help bring new voices, cultures and perspectives to ABC audiences. They commit us to working with our production partners to make the industry a more inclusive workspace, by opening the doors to diverse creative talent, on and off screen.

Ensuring greater diversity and inclusion within the ABC and the wider screen industry is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

Having more diverse stories on screen offers a richer bank of programs for audiences to draw from. Seeing a multitude of stories, faces, backgrounds and abilities on show makes us all stronger. It helps build empathy and understanding. It ensures audiences feel their lives and experiences are being reflected on screen.

Australia’s diversity is one of its great strengths. Our nation is constantly evolving with new ideas, perspectives and stories. It makes sense to include those different voices. For our TV screens to reflect who we are and, importantly, who we want to be.

I encourage everyone to read the ABC’s Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines – Screen Content by clicking here.

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