Monday , August 3 2020
Home / Latest News / SBS seemed like a miracle, then I realised it was not a place for people who looked like me

SBS seemed like a miracle, then I realised it was not a place for people who looked like me

I gave him another out: Chadha was raised in Britain, so was there something innate about rudeness in Indians that had been passed down to her? Yes, he said, tripling down and adding that if he ever saw her again he’d kick her in the teeth. Then the two colleagues walked off.

Loading

I was shocked at how comfortable this person seemed while saying those things – and that the other colleague with that person thought it was funny. While he was laughing, I was looking around to see if anyone else was hearing what I was hearing and all I saw were silent white people. I was the only person of colour in sight. (Last year SBS said 51 per cent of its employees speak a language other than English at home, 44 per cent were born overseas and 4 per cent were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – but that includes the extensive language network and NITV, the Indigenous network.)

The extremely sensitive, generous colleague with whom I had been originally talking made a complaint on my behalf and HR went through its process. They said the right things, but as far as I could tell, nothing changed. I had to see the guy every day and even read emails about what a great job he was doing – reminders of what you could get away with at the multicultural public broadcaster.

I pleaded for some kind of action. An email sent to all staff. Something that acknowledged that making insulting comments like that at SBS – with all its banners advocating for diversity and inclusion and meetings about cultural sensitivity and the importance of representation in media – there was a zero-tolerance policy towards that kind of thing.

I was told that no email would be sent – that’s what the online code of conduct test was for. I was offered therapy services and a senior executive encouraged me to put the episode behind me while congratulating me for not making a scene.

Basically, the prejudice I faced wasn’t a network problem – it was mine.

I felt unvalued and unwelcome. Weak. Embarrassed and ashamed of my powerlessness. I withdrew from my team, sitting as far away as possible. I was silent in meetings. And when I sat with the loneliness of my anguish and looked around at all the (very nice, very well-meaning) predominantly white people at different levels of power, to me, the message was clear: this place was not for people who looked like me.

Could Australia have more shows like The Family Law if SBS had more diversity in its ranks?

Could Australia have more shows like The Family Law if SBS had more diversity in its ranks?Credit:SBS

And that is reflected in the multicultural shows, which are largely commissioned by, made by and made for (very nice, very well-meaning) white people. There is a scene in the SBS-commissioned crime thriller Dead Lucky, screened in 2018, where a group of international students are portrayed with some of the most blatant, broad cultural stereotyping I had seen in a very long time. We’re talking “Ay Chihuahua” Latin lover territory. I’m not sure a scene like that would make it past the people at Netflix, but it was good enough for the multicultural public broadcaster.

If there were more diversity at SBS, maybe there would be a different approach to making content. Maybe every show commissioned wouldn’t have to scream obvious stuff like “racism is bad” and feature “diverse” casts led by a white “star” for marketability purposes. Maybe there would be fewer documentary series featuring white British presenters leading us on cultural adventures. Maybe there would be more shows like The Family Law. Maybe instead of having to acquire the US comedy-drama Atlanta, Australia could make its own. Maybe we’d find the Aussie Never Have I Ever.

What is the point of having a multicultural public broadcaster if you’re not going to give the people that it pretends to support a chance to lead it and shape its content?

Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, left, and Zazie Beetz as Van in a scene from the award-winning series Atlanta.

Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, left, and Zazie Beetz as Van in a scene from the award-winning series Atlanta.Credit:FX

Responding to accounts of former employees encountering racism while working at SBS – and screenwriter Michelle Law risking her relationship with her former employer by pointing out the hiding-in-plain-sight all-white leadership team – the network has created two Indigenous elder roles and promoted two people of colour.

That’s a start. But there’s a lot more work to be done. And it needs to start now.

We don’t have time for comments like that of former SBS boss Michael Ebeid who, with some seriously unmitigated gall, said white people were perfectly capable of telling multicultural stories for SBS. (One of the best quotes – “A white man can do that” – should be the name of SBS’s next commissioned docuseries.) As if we live in some sort of multicultural utopia, where everyone is represented and there’s no glass ceiling for anyone, anyone can tell any story as long as it’s good. As if we can just jump from a “Whites-Only” landscape to “Now We’re All Equal” without actually trying to make some changes.

Loading

We don’t have time for creators throwing up their hands over attempts to diversify the casts of Australian TV shows.

I’m not calling for anyone’s job. I still believe in SBS and I still have friends there. And I’m still grateful that I was given the chance to do work that I’ll always be extremely proud of. So this was not easy for me. I’ve struggled a great deal with whether or not this story should be told. I’m also wary of providing fuel to a right-wing narrative about the left’s “obsession” with identity politics, which is often criticised as superficial virtue signalling (a horribly weaponised term, especially on SBS’s Facebook page, where people constantly scream at the network for being “anti-white”).

But I am moved by this moment we are in. A moment sparked by the reaction to police violence against black people in the US, which has turned into a movement spanning different countries and industries. And I’m inspired by the courage of people like screenwriter and former SBS cadet journalist Kodie Bedford who try to help make the moment more meaningful with their own stories so we can start to see some change.

At my lowest point at SBS, I started playing in a lunchtime basketball comp with the NITV team. I didn’t work directly with them, but I felt instantly welcome. I felt, and I hate to use this word because of how politicised it has become, but I felt safe. There seemed to be some kind of unspoken understanding – and I felt a kinship on that team that I could no longer feel elsewhere at SBS.

The kinds of incidents that happened to me and others would have hurt anywhere they happened. But they happened at SBS. And as a result, they hurt so much more.

Nick Bhasin is a writer and editor. Twitter: @nickbhasin

Most Viewed in National

Loading

About admin

Check Also

South African infections pass 500,000, more than 50 per cent of Africa’s total

Loading South Africa’s case fatality rate – the number of deaths as a proportion of …