In what can be described as a big win for South Asian representation on Australian news television, journalist and newsreader Jeremy Fernandez is taking up the post as main anchor of the NSW 7PM News bulletin.
The Malaysian-born presenter of Indian descent takes over from Juanita Phillips from Monday, September 11, presenting the bulletin five nights a week after previously being the NSW 7PM weekend presenter.
“I am tremendously humbled to be entrusted with this role alongside colleagues I’ve admired for so many years. I look forward to continuing my work across the ABC network, alongside the nightly NSW 7PM News,” Fernandez said in an official press statement.
Thanking his NSW newsroom colleagues, he also acknowledged his predecessor who’s been in the role for the last two decades.
“I also honour and congratulate my friend and colleague Juanita Phillips for her outstanding service and mentorship to me and others,” he said.
“Through my years of reporting I’ve met so many people who’ve generously trusted the ABC to share their stories. Their accounts of hardship, achievement and community service – and their resilience and sense of humour – have made an imprint on me and my journalism. Our audiences always inform everything we do.”
Born in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, Fernandez grew up in Kota Kinabalu before moving to Australia with his parents when he was 13.
“Neither of my parents had opportunities to go to university or to college when they were younger, and that’s something that really stuck with my dad. It was a really important foundation of life,” Fernandez said in a video published by the Australian High Commission of Malaysia last year.
“So when the opportunity arose, he decided that it was time to move to Australia so he could study law at university in Perth (Curtin University).”
While the representation of people of colour on Australian television is gradually improving, news and current affairs TV is notably an area where progress is slower.
After examining 25,000 items broadcast on 103 news and current affairs programs between June 1 and June 14 in 2022, the report concluded that 78% (up from 75% in a 2019 study) of on-air talent on news and current affairs TV are Anglo-Celtic, only 6.1% are from a non-European background and 5.4% are Indigenous. Breakfast news, early evening news, prime time news, late night news, weekend news and news updates, and various current affairs shows were examined during the research process.
Fernandez recently spoke about his decision to become a journalist, telling The Guardian last month that “It was never really part of the plan, or inside the realm of possibility, because there were very few people who looked like me who did this job when I was growing up”.
Seeing talented journalists like Fernandez presenting the news in a prime-time slot on the national broadcaster is a great deal. Not only for young or aspiring journalists who’d like to see a role model who looks like them in the field. But also for multicultural audiences, and most certainly brown viewers. It’s not only powerful and brings immense pride to see someone reading the news who happens to look like you, but comfort in seeing a face who may understand some of the challenges and experiences that are unique to your community.
As a journalist, I believe that there is great value in having diverse storytellers in every newsroom, picking up on cultural nuances and sensitivities, and offering fresh perspectives on national issues that impact certain communities differently.
Here’s hoping that Fernandez’s new role signals a new wave of more South Asian representation on Australian news and current affairs TV.