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Media Diversity

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:16 pm on 11th February 2020.

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

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.