The decision by Stan Grant to step aside from Q+A, after being subjected to shameful racist vitriol, is a wake-up call for all in the media. First and foremost are those who wrongfully singled out Stan to continue a long-running campaign of hysterical snipings about the ABC, and in doing so fed social media trolls with an appetite for deplorable personal invective. Then there’s the ABC management which was too slow to come to his defence. Inevitably, this has come at great personal cost to Stan and we hope that his courage in calling out malicious racism and unwarranted personal attack will be a catalyst for positive change.
We stand in solidarity with Stan Grant
By Helen Grasswill / 23 May 2023
The racist vitriol to which our ABC colleague Stan Grant has been subjected, especially over the last few weeks, says a lot about Australia’s media. And it’s not pretty.
While some journalists quickly rallied to Stan’s defence, others – notably in News Corp outlets – chose to continue an ongoing sniping attack on the ABC by singling him out for particular condemnation over what they purported was an inappropriate appearance on the ABC’s coverage of King Charles III’s coronation in early May.
News director Justin Stevens addresses a staff rally in Sydney in support of Stan Grant.
This was a night of history. The ABC ran a positive documentary on the new king, followed by a relatively short panel discussion, prior to handing over to the BBC commentary for the bulk of the night’s coverage – the several hours of coronational ceremony.
Stan was invited to take part in the panel discussion to give a First Nations’ viewpoint of the monarchy and colonisation. He is eminently qualified to do so, not simply because he’s a Wiradjuri man from the Griffith region in NSW, but he’s penned respected books examining the subject. He spoke on the night, not with venom, but with thoughtfulness and authority.
The ABC’s coronation night panel, L-R: Co-chair Australian Republic Movement Craig Foster, Liberal MP Julian Lesser, presenters Jeremy Fernandez and Julia Baird, and Stan Grant.
Some critics have said the inclusion of Stan in this role, and his commentary, was ‘disrespectful’. Really. Disrespectful to whom? Certainly not to First Nations Australians. Nor to those of us who understand the importance of truth-telling about our troubled colonial history if the nation is to truly achieve reconciliation and an Aussie ‘fair go’ for all people.
It does not automatically follow that acknowledging the ugly realities of colonisation is a condemnation of everything else that has since been achieved.
Stan himself has always been very clear: he loves Australia – and loves even more the Australia we could be:
I speak of truth, not grievance.
Truths. Hard truths. Truths not told with hate – truths offered with love. Yes, love. I repeatedly said that these truths are spoken with love for the Australia we have never been.
The singling out of Stan for criticism because of his historical perspective is disgraceful in another way. Craig Foster, co-chair of the Australian Republic Movement, was also on the panel, advocating for Australia to become a republic – a future possibility that is surely a greater threat to the monarchy than a benign acknowledgement of the past. But he pretty much escaped attention and one can only conclude that the difference is that he is non-Indigenous.
As the old adage goes: “If you’re white you’re right, if you’re black step back.”
If this issue were confined to some sections of the media, it would be bad enough. But it’s more insidious.
As Denis Muller of Melbourne University’s Journalism Centre has pointed out in The Conversation, the treatment of Stan is a case study in how content in the professional media can fuel social media toxicity:
It does not require the professional mass media to be overtly racist to accomplish this, but to send signals of intense disapproval that trolls then use as the basis for their racist attacks.
Grant himself clearly sees this. In his statement on ABC Online announcing his decision to step away from hosting Q+A on ABC television, he wrote:
“Since the King’s coronation, I have seen people in the media lie and distort my words. They have tried to depict me as hate-filled. They have accused me of maligning Australia.”
The reality is that Stan has never been hate-filled.
Nothing could be further from the truth, my ancestors would never let me be filled with hate.
His eloquent and deeply moving farewell comments at the end of Monday’s Q+A were typical of his depth and the deep humanity that drives him. He spoke of his love for Australia and Australians, and with humility of the Wiradjiri concept of Yindyamarra and his sorrow at whatever he may have done to inspire the level of hatred he’s endured:
It means that I am not just responsible for what I do, but for what you do.
The truth is, Stan didn’t do anything that could possibly warrant such acrimony.
Stan received unanimous support from both audience and panel on his last appearance on Q+A.
He is a man of stature with an eminent career in the media, both in Australia and internationally. His contribution to public debate on a range of issues must not be lost.
It’s no wonder he received a standing ovation from the studio audience, who like so many of us are repulsed by the malign use of media and social media to spread vitriol and prosecute vendettas.
Stan Grant on his final Q+A.
ABC management has apologised to Stan Grant for its failure to properly support him in the current dispute and is reviewing internal systemic issues, including complaints about a legacy of inhouse racism affecting ABC staff. This is in addition to work already underway through its Diversity, Indigenous and Inclusion leadership. Earlier this year ABC also lodged an official complaint with Twitter over previous abuse of Stan on its platform.
Helen Grasswill is Deputy Chair of ABC Alumni.