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Media Diversity

– in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mike Freer.)

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 7:16 pm, 11th February 2020

I am pleased to have secured this important debate. The media is a fundamental part of the way that we see and understand the world. According to Ofcom, 79% of adults get their news information from broadcasters and 40% from newspapers, but, while white adults are using TV, radio and newspapers, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and young people are turning away from them. Instead, they are using the internet, social media and alternative media sources. That is because traditional media sources are failing to represent the society on which they report. Today, I will talk about how there continues to be a systemic lack of race, class, disability, LGBT plus and gender diversity across the media, but particularly in broadcast and newspaper journalism.

Last week, the BBC misidentified me as my hon. Friend Dawn Butler, Britain’s first black female Minister, while I was making a speech in this House. The error was compounded by the report on the issue in the Evening Standard, which confused a picture of my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy with me. The Evening Standard had used photos from Getty Images which had wrongly captioned me as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham—you quite literally could not make this up. In the space of a few days, three separate news outlets, Getty Images, the BBC and the Evening Standard, had confused me with another female black MP. This was not the first time: it has happened time and again to me and my other colleagues of colour in Parliament. As journalist Gary Younge put it:

“The message is clear. It really doesn’t matter how prominent, accomplished, integrated, qualified or celebrated non-white people become to a significant number of others, including their peers. They will always just be another black person: interchangeable.”

In the eyes of much of the media, it is impossible for me to have my own identity outside of being a black woman. In that sense, I am invisible to them. This is one of the many incidents that exposes a problem within our media—a problem that exists because the workforce who make up our media, the journalists, producers, commentators, editors and presenters, do not reflect modern British society. Jobs across the sector continue to be inaccessible to those without privilege or resources. Just 7% of the UK is privately educated, and roughly 1% graduate from Oxford and Cambridge, but according to the Sutton Trust, 43% of the top figures in news media are privately educated and 36% went to Oxford. We should never forget that Oxbridge makes more offers to one school, Eton, than to all the children on free school meals. It is almost as though there is a direct pipeline from Eton, Harrow and Westminster to Oxbridge and to the heart of our media.

It simply is not getting any better. Social mobility in the United Kingdom is low and not improving.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate the hon. Lady, who is a doughty campaigner on many subjects in this House. I wish her well on this one. Does she agree that there should be a natural spread of disability, gender, age, colour, class and creed in the media and the paid rates for this diversity must equate to fitness of purpose for the job and not what sex a presenter or reporter is? The way to do that is better enforcement of pay structures in both the public and private sectors.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. He is absolutely right, and I will come on to talk about the pay gaps and problems in those structures.

As I said, things are simply not getting better, and according to the Sutton Trust elite voices continue to dominate our media, as they have since the 1950s. In fact, according to the Government’s own figures, journalists are second only to doctors as the most exclusive profession in Britain, with the majority of journalists coming from middle-class backgrounds.

The lack of working-class representation in our media also means a lack of black, Asian and other minority ethnic group representation. A study by City University and the Sutton Trust shows that 94% of journalists are white and only 0.2% of journalists are black. In a recent report, Ofcom criticised this “woeful” lack of diversity in broadcast television. And I can understand why. There is not a single high-profile British news programme or current affairs series headed by a non-white person. Growing up, I was used to seeing Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart on my screen. As I grew older I expected to see more people of colour reading the news or providing political commentary, but progress seems to have ground to a halt. The National Council for the Training of Journalists found that the proportion of black broadcast journalists has remained unchanged at 1% since 2002. Figures from Ofcom show that only 10% of those in leadership roles in news and current affairs at the BBC are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background and that only 7% of ITV and 11% of Sky employees working in journalism are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

There are 8 million black and ethnic minority people in this country and 14 million disabled people, but neither group is given a proper voice in our media. The United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people is clear that all disabled people should have the right to

“effectively and fully participate in…public life on an equal basis with others”, and that includes the media. The failure to recruit disabled journalists has done little to change that. It is time that we saw blind and partially sighted people like myself and disabled people anchoring the news on TV and radio and as political commentators. It is time that we read more columns, op-eds and analysis by wheelchair users. And it is time for all broadcasters to recognise their responsibilities by ensuring that disabled people are recognised in our media.

We cannot forget that diversity in our media means off-screen diversity as well as on-screen diversity. Under a third of TV occupations are held by women, and less than a fifth are from a working-class background. From 2013 to 2016, just 2.2% of British TV episodes were made by ethnic minority directors. That means that entire series of dramas, comedies, sketch shows, reality TV shows, and their story arcs, have been created without any black, Asian or minority ethnic group input. It is time that Ofcom introduced a regulatory mechanism to monitor the make-up of all workforces, on-screen and off-screen. We must not be afraid to say that, like many other areas and sectors of society, our media are a bit pale, a bit male and a bit stale.

I recognise all the important work done by broadcasters and news organisations across the media, but we must ask why there has been so little improvement. Some key factors are making this systemic lack of diversity worse. First, unpaid internships continue to be a key way in which people enter journalism. Recent figures reveal that more than 80% of new entrants to journalism do internships that are unpaid. Working for free is something that can only be done by a select few—that is, by people who live in urban centres and who are supported by their families. An element of the old boys’ club still reigns strong in the media; in some instances, it seems to be a case of not what you know, but who you know. Any Government who are committed to a real living wage and believe that everybody should have an equal chance to work should act to abolish unpaid internships. Secondly, the decimation of local news sources has had a negative impact on aspiring journalists from outside the urban centres, because it has removed the pipeline from local and regional up towards national press and broadcasting.

When the Minister responds, will he tell me whether he agrees that there is a systemic problem with diversity in the media? What are the Government doing to ensure that they fulfil the commitments set out in the industrial strategy, and deliver a media sector that is open to all talented people, irrespective of their race, disability, class or gender? Will he call on all major media corporations to report on all aspects of the diversity of their workforce, including their socioeconomic make-up, and will he legislate to ensure that these organisations publish their pay gap data for gender, disability and ethnicity? Will he introduce a regulatory requirement for organisations to publish the data on their black, Asian and minority ethnic, disability and LGBT workforce from senior executive level to entry level? And will he confirm that the rumours circulating that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be dissolved are not true?

As I come to the end of my speech, I would like to put on record my recognition of the important work done by organisations, such as Channel 4, to increase socioeconomic and regional diversity in their workforces. I commend it for its target to have 12% disabled staff across the organisation by 2023. But we know that there is an unacceptable divide between media and society, as was articulated well by Jon Snow from Channel 4. In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, he lamented the media’s failure to recognise what was happening, saying:

“in an increasingly fractured Britain, we in the media” have

“little awareness, contact, or connection with those not of the elite.”

A media dominated by the elite means that broadcasters, newspapers and our stories do not reflect the rich diversity of our society. For instance, with so few Muslim journalists—0.2%—it is no coincidence that over a third of newspaper articles “misrepresented or made generalisations” about the Muslim community, according to the Muslim Council of Britain. When disabled staff make up just 5.5% of off-screen staff at major broadcasters, it is no wonder that they are not represented on our TV screens.

Without a diverse workforce made up of every part of our society—without reporters with an understanding of, say, Bristol and Birmingham, and without executives from Oxton as well as Oxbridge—the media will always fail to speak for us all. It is time for real action and time for real change so that our media is by us, for us and about us.

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State 7:30 pm, 11th February 2020

I am delighted to respond to this debate and really grateful to Marsha De Cordova for securing it. Before I came here this afternoon, my son said to say hello as she is his local MP, so he is delighted that we are having this debate.

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State

Indeed. It is a great surprise to be giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I think that is an inadmissible question.

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State

I love him dearly, but I can confirm that he did not vote for the Conservative party at the general election. But that is a matter for his own conscience—and at some point his own bank balance, no doubt.

Unfortunately, the experience of the hon. Lady is not the first of its kind and is unlikely to be the last. There have been a number of other high-profile examples, including recently when the basketball player Kobe Bryant was mistaken for LeBron James during a BBC news report, and the musician Stormzy has previously been mistaken for the former Manchester United player Romelu Lukaku. In addition to the other negative experiences that she has raised, these examples all point to a wider issue directly linked to, as she rightly points out, a lack of diversity in our media.

The media play a vital role in British society and therefore have an important responsibility to reflect the reality of modern Britain. This can only be possible with a representative and diverse workforce. It is the Government’s view that everyone, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunity to be successful and to go as far as their talents and hard work take them, including in the media and the wider creative industries. This Government are committed to working together with the industry to achieve this and to support greater diversity.

As one of our most cherished institutions, the BBC has an important role to play in the diversity debate, and we expect it to lead the way. In 2016, the Government embedded diversity in the BBC’s new public purposes to make sure that it delivers for everyone in the UK. That gave the BBC a general duty to make sure that it considered diversity in the programmes and shows it makes and in the way that it is organised and run. This Government’s position is clear: the BBC should be leading the way in both on-screen and off-screen diversity in equal measure.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

I am sure that the BBC itself would accept that it needs to go further. In 2017, its BAME representation was 14.8% across the workforce. There is more to do, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is endeavouring to improve the situation?

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State

I believe that the BBC is incredibly conscious of this. I think the numbers may have crept up a little bit, but there is still an awful lot more to do.

The BBC has conducted reviews on improving its diversity, and it is continuing to implement those findings. It has announced that it will be appointing two advisers to every senior leader group across the business to increase BAME representation at senior levels. The Government expect the BBC to make significant progress in delivering against those challenges, including on the proportion of women and BAME people represented in its leadership.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I appreciate that the BBC is trying and aspiring to do better, but does the Minister agree that it needs to look at not only race and gender but disability?

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State

I do, and I am about to come on to the very valid points that the hon. Lady made.

As of 2019, the proportion of women in the BBC was 47%, and the proportion of BAME people was 15%. That is better than the national labour population in general, but it falls behind other public service broadcasters. The proportion of women at Channel 4, for example, is 57%, and the proportion of BAME people is 19%.

As Members will be aware, the BBC charter establishes Ofcom as the independent regulator for the BBC. Ofcom must therefore continue to hold the BBC to account on its diversity requirements. Ofcom’s review of BBC representation and portrayal on TV in 2018 set challenges for the BBC, and the Government expect the BBC to keep working towards being a more diverse and representative organisation and broadcaster.

Ofcom’s responsibility to hold the BBC to account on its diversity requirements is part of its wider role to monitor the diversity of the UK television sector as a whole. Ofcom has a duty to promote equality of opportunity in relation to employment in the broadcasting sector and has powers to ask broadcasters to provide information about their equal opportunities policies and the make-up of their workforce. Ofcom’s findings are published in its annual report on diversity and equal opportunities in television. In its latest report, it notes that 13% of the UK television industry identifies as BAME, which is just above the average of the UK labour market. The number of women—45%—is only just below the average of the UK labour market. It is with disability that Ofcom identifies a real issue, with 6% of the UK television industry reporting as disabled, which falls well below the 18% of the UK labour market. Clearly, more needs to be done in that regard.

A big issue is the availability of data on the diverse make-up of the media industry. Ofcom says that, while gaps in the data are decreasing, the number who report as “undisclosed” is increasing, and therein lies the issue. It is important that, in acknowledging that more could be done to support the industry, we understand that part of that is ensuring we have the available data to support the case for change and to measure success when it comes. Without doubt, UK television should reflect modern Britain, both on and off the screen, and the Government are supportive of Ofcom’s work to drive improvements in that area.

The hon. Lady referred to social mobility, which remains a problem at many media organisations. For example, it was reported last year that only 9% of staff at Channel 4 identified as coming from a working-class background. Even at the BBC, which has the highest number of staff from lower social classes, 61% of staff identify as coming from a higher social class. However, I would like to applaud Channel 4 for taking this problem seriously and acknowledging that it wants to be a place where the doors are open to everyone. This is a difficult problem to tackle. Those from higher social classes have the capital to afford to take low-paid or unpaid internships, to get a foot in the door.

The hon. Lady also asked whether the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be dissolved. On behalf of myself and the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Matt Warman, I very much hope that that is not the case, but we will have to wait until Thursday.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I thank the Minister for giving way again, and I am pleased to hear that the Department will be staying intact; I hope he will remain a part of it. When we talk about diversity and representation in media outlets—be it the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 or ITV—it is important to acknowledge that certain roles, such as those in finance or HR, are separate from those on-screen or as part of the off-screen editorial and production side of things. Does he agree that there needs to be proper data gathering about those roles, as well as the other aspects of the industry?

Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State

I agree—that is the challenge in data collection, which should be more transparent. The hon. Lady makes a very good point.

In the time that is left, I will make some progress. The situation differs from that of print media. Newspapers tell the stories that reflect modern Britain. As a result, it is important that those working in print media are representative of the diversity of our country. The Government are committed to a free and independent press, and we do not interfere with what the press can and cannot publish. Of course, editors have responsibilities to the public, and should be held to account if they infringe individuals’ rights.

The press is subject to independent self-regulation. Anyone who is concerned about something published by a newspaper can make a complaint, either to a self-regulatory body, or to the publisher directly. As we said in the Government’s response to the Cairncross review, public interest news and journalism should reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom. Improving the diversity of newsrooms could help newspapers appeal to under-represented audiences. Appealing to under-represented audiences could also have a positive impact on sustainability. Many newspapers are doing good work in this area, with a number of national newspapers running diversity schemes.

The Government do not wish to interfere in any way with editorial freedoms, operations or decision making in newspapers, but we encourage the press to do more to increase diversity in journalism. The Government are committed to ensuring that equality and diversity are a key feature of all our interactions with industry. The work that is being done on improving the diversity of the print and broadcast media is part of the wider steps being taken within the creative industries. I am happy to say that much is being done in the creative industries to reflect our diverse country. Only last week I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Ukie’s “Raise the Game” diversity pledge with five founding partners, including heavy hitters Microsoft Xbox and Jagex, which aim to redress the balance of the games workforce which is currently 70% male and 12% privately educated—almost double the national average. Initiatives such as these and the “Creative Pioneers” of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising or Penguin Random House’s “WriteNow” programme, which has engaged 450 writers across nine regional workshops, provide positive first steps across sectors traditionally seen as a closed shop.

The Government recognise that much more can be done to bring about widespread and long-lasting change. Through the Creative Industries Council, we are working with industry to show strong leadership in this area. The recently announced diversity charter commits the creative sector to improving the quality of its diversity data as well as its recruitment practices, development, promotion and retention of staff at all levels in order to create a more diverse workforce and develop more output that appeals to people from all backgrounds and regions of the UK.

I thank the hon. Member for Battersea again for bringing this incredibly important debate to the Floor of the House. I am pretty sure that my son will not thank me for mentioning him, but there is important work being done across the media and creative industries to improve the diversity of the industry. I am pleased that organisations such as the BBC and other UK broadcasters have taken this seriously and are moving in the right direction. I want to finish by reiterating that there is still much to do and that the Government will continue to encourage the media industry to continue these efforts.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.