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Out with the old and in with the new old (Image screenshot news.com.au)

The selection of the two new breakfast hosts of triple j suggests the ABC's youth radio station has a diversity problem, says Sib Hare.

It’s out with the old and in with the new as ABC triple j trade in their old breakfast hosts, Matt Okine and Alex Dyson, for two shiny new models. The champions of youth radio announced on Tuesday that two new roosters were inbound, ready to occupy the coop. The roosters in question? Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton from Adelaide’s Fresh 92.7 Breakfast.

With this move, triple j have shocked and outraged audiences, audaciously replacing two mainstream straight-passing menTM with a pair of mainstream straight-passing white menTM. This choice is safer than spinning Darryl Braithwaite’s Horses at 1am at a house party.

With the departure of Matt and Alex, triple j was presented with a rare opportunity to shake up the homogeneity of the breakfast radio scene. Especially as they have repeatedly come under fire for the lack of women represented in the Hottest 100 and the problems of gender inequality in the music industry at large.

Since 1998, just 3 of the 15 presenters in their breakfast show have been women. This is significant as it is the flagship show for the station, draws the largest exposure for its presenters, and commands a decent whack of national radio traffic.

The omission of female hosts in the top spot has become screamingly obvious and if the choice is not deliberate, it is at best careless. It gives men countrywide a chance to participate in the favoured national pastime, internet trolling. The dead horses of public debate are being dragged out for yet another flogging. Women are pushing for “feminism not equality”, cries that triple j picked the best presenters available regardless of gender, and disqualification of possible female presenters based on their “annoying, whiney” voices, inappropriate for the wee hours. Comments that the radio show must be entertaining and therefore cannot include women revisit the trope that women cannot be funny. ABC triple j has missed a vital opportunity to undercut these catchcries of the culturally conservative.

This blatant sexism is couched as an aesthetic choice. ABC triple j is aware of their listeners’ predilection for male voices and know that only a specific brand of female presenter sells. Once, during a show, the incredible Linda Marigliano struggled with a sound byte and, in a fluster, almost lost the flow of the segment. By way of explanation, she cheerily explained her internal monologue, “stay cool Linda, don’t lose the smile in your voice”, revealing the exhausting charade she is obliged keep up at all times whilst on air. Women are expected to conform to a pleasing and compliant norm, while men like Lewis McKirdy are allowed to say less than 10 words a minute, omit any form of insightful commentary and still be lauded as heroes of the scene.

Reshuffling the deck, triple j also announced a slew of supporting characters for their new breakfast stars. The broadcasters have self-consciously included these sidekicks in all their media releases, despite their previous trend of focusing only on the primary presenters. Included in this cast are Brooke Boney, taking over the news and current affairs and Gen Fricker, reductively described in the media release as “your funny pal,” leaving us to wonder what her role actually entails. Also included is Paralympian of the Year, Dylan Alcott. Alcott, like Matt Okine before him, is triple j’s conspicuous nod to diversity. It is fantastic that triple j have included someone with a disability on their team, especially someone who has done such important work throughout his career to promote diversity. However, triple j act as if all their diversity points are used up on Alcott. One diverse team member does not a diverse team make.

An easy way to address this issue is to give exposure to more minorities to break the stereotype that mainstream characters are the only possible media success stories.

As Alcott himself says about his work to normalise disability:

“We are the positive role models who are holding the flame to try and change the perception of disabilities in the wider community.”

Underrepresented minorities will never be allowed to surpass the constraints society ascribes to them if their inclusion in the media is always treated as tokenistic.

If triple j claim to be the voice of youth and the left-leaning selection on the buffet of breakfast radio options, it is unacceptable to continue to move in this vanilla-icecream-with-no-toppings-thanks direction. We’re in dire need of leadership on this issue, and triple j has proven time and time again that they are not interested.

You can follow Sib Hare on Twitter @sibhare.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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