Lisa Wilkinson and Annabel Crabb lament viewer obsession with female TV journalists' appearance

Lisa Wilkinson delivered the Andrew Olle lecture on Friday night.

Lisa Wilkinson delivered the Andrew Olle lecture on Friday night. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

"Chorus of cats." "A two-bit hooker." "Today's outfit is particularly jarring and awful."

They are two of the most respected female journalists on Australian television. Yet Lisa Wilkinson and Annabel Crabb have both, in the space of two days, felt the need to detail the scourge of negative looks-based feedback received by women in the TV industry.

“Today's media landscape, particularly for women, is one now so focused on the glossy and the glamorous it often eclipses and undermines everything else,” said Lisa Wilkinson in the annual Andrew Olle Lecture on Friday.

Annabel Crabb.

Annabel Crabb.

“I kid you not – even in preparing for tonight's lecture, the most common question I was asked was not ‘What are you going to say?’, but ‘What are you going to wear?’”


Wilkinson was the first female journalist invited to give the annual Olle lecture since Jana Wendt in 1997 – “Still, I suppose that's better than double the representation women are currently enjoying in our Federal Cabinet” – and she used the platform to bemoan the double standards applied to women in the media, revealing her appearance is often allowed to overshadow her work.

Such as in March this year, when the television presenter received this message from a viewer called Angela:

“Who the heck is Lisa's stylist? Whoever it is has Lisa in some shocking clothes. Today's outfit is particularly jarring and awful. Just my 2 cents worth. Get Some Style.”

Wilkinson garnered laughs by detailing her own curt response. But the email was not an isolated message.
“Hello Producer,” another wrote, “I am totally fed up with the combination of Lisa and Georgie [Gardner] they're shocking together and its like listening to a chorus of cats. Please replace Karl when he's on 'assignment' with a male partner for Georgie or Lisa. In fact, Lisa's interviews are very biased and I think she should just stay at home with her husband and that stupid red turban he wears on his head. No doubt that's where she gets her Tony Abbott interview questions from. Joanne”
Even guests on the show are targets.

“I don't think you guys should allow Miss Ita Buttrose on the show,” TV viewer “Steve” wrote. “She has so much to answer for. Before she started writing all that stuff in her magazine all those years ago, women were happy, they didn't need to vote, or have a license, they didn't even know what an organism [sic] was.”

Two days after Wilkinson's speech, Annabel Crabb wrote about her experiences filling in for Leigh Sales on ABC's 7.30, including an email with the subject line: “Oh Dear”.

''Whoever did your make-up last night obviously doesn't like you. Did you sleep with her husband? You looked like a two-bit hooker ready for a bit of business on Hindley Street. And I thought you were such a nice girl. Don't you dare come into my house looking like that again.”

The comments thrown at the journalists fit with findings from Monash University’s recent study into the media industry, which found that gender bias and sexual harassment against female journalists were still systemic problems in Australia.

Unfortunately for female journalists, it doesn't necessarily get any better inside the newsroom either.

Earlier this year, Canberra Times journalist Stephanie Anderson wrote about her experience of “being harassed while on the job.”

“Receiving this kind of treatment, some intentionally condescending and some just a failed attempt at conversation, from members of the public is one thing,” Anderson wrote, “… But it’s a different matter when these comments come from inside the newsroom.”

Dr Louise North, of the university’s School of Applied Media and Social Sciences, surveyed 577 female journalists working across all media platforms in metropolitan, regional, rural and suburban news media organisations, and found that newsrooms remain among one of the most hostile work environment for women; female journalists experience some form of sexual harassment at twice the rate found in the general workforce.

In media, there is not one female editor in charge of a national daily newspaper, despite the fact that four-out-of-five journalism graduates are women.  

“I despair that every time a female journalist is profiled in the press her age is usually mentioned by the second paragraph,” Wilkinson said on Friday, “…and yet, does anyone here know or care how old Kerry O'Brien, Kochie, Tony Jones, Hugh Riminton, Ray Martin, Peter Overton or Laurie Oakes are?”