Our media is dangerously homogenous, it’s time we had real diversity and equality
Racial bias in the media not only negates our messages and minimises our work as individuals, but leads to group think in news reports relevant to our society and democracy
For our democracy to work we need a functioning media which reports all of our stories and presents a spectrum of views and perspectives.
Some people believe that a good journalist can just be ‘neutral’ and report on the news in an objective way so that their particular identity or life experiences are irrelevant. This, I’m afraid is a fallacy.
All humans, even journalists, view the world through the prism of their own experiences. The things they choose to report on, the way they choose to report, whose voice is given prominence and which voices are ignored all come from their own inbuilt preferences and are shaped by the way they have experienced life.
For the media to function in a way that serves the entire population those making the programmes, writer the articles and broadcasting on the radio need to reflect the population they serve.
A lack of diversity leads to incidents like last week, when the BBC misidentified me as MP for Brent Central and Shadow Women and Equalities Minister Dawn Butler and then the error was compounded by the Evening Standard reporting on the error and using a picture of the new Shadow Immigration Minister and MP for Streatham Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
In the range of micro and macro aggressions against people of colour in the public eye, this might seem to some as reasonably harmless. But as journalist Gary Younge said recently, ‘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.’
The regularity with which these errors occur leaves me with the feeling that Black MPs are seen as an amorphous group, we’re like one person. This kind of treatment negates our messages and minimises our work as individuals.
It is also worth noting that this error happened to three MPs whose briefs are all concerned with promoting inclusivity and equality.
The body that oversees journalist training in the UK, The NCTJ found that in 2018 the proportion of journalists who are black remained at 1% as it was in 2002. The figure for all BAME journalists in 2002 was 4% compared with 5% in 2018.
While there has been a concerted effort to improve diversity on our main broadcasters over recent years and the figures are still woeful.
Adding BAME faces to the roster is not the whole story anyway.
If you have four white privately and Oxbridge educated journalists, simply adding a privately Oxbridge educated journalist who happens to be Asian to the team does not mean you have you have cracked diversity.
We need more than just photo opportunities. We need real diversity and equality.
The aim is to breakdown group think and have a range of opinions and experiences feeding into the news production process at all levels.
While the new team member might bring with them cultural knowledge and lived experience of racism, they might not bring with them any experience of working class communities or what it’s like to live in some of our roughest inner cities.
Regardless of political bias, our mainstream media is still dangerously homogenous with the majority of those who curate and deliver our news coming from a relatively small part of our society.
Recently the Sutton Trust found 43 per cent of the UK’s 100 most influential editors and broadcasters went to private school, an 11 per cent drop from 2014. The same study found that the proportion of newspaper columnists who studied at private schools rose by one percentage point in the same period to 44 per cent. Around 7% of Britain is educated privately.
This sort of bias leads to group think and means that when it comes to reporting news that is relevant to all sections of our society and which nurtures democracy sadly, our media is just not fit for purpose.
Marsha de Cordova is the Member of Parliament for Battersea.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.