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Putting diversity into journalism

IN A PROMISING spring dusk before street lights took over, in the tree height glass boxes of a Sadler's Wells foyer, there was an exciting atmosphere of expectation and brightness as we gathered to celebrate the George Viner Memorial Fund 2016 Awards on 17 March. This NUJ fund has supported Black and Minority Ethnic members to access training for the last 30 years. Our current scholars are Adae, Kemi Alemoru, Nicola Chinedu Ediyah, Kuba Shand-Baptiste and Peter Yeung.

We'd been handed diversity monitoring forms to fill in, and noticed some pencilled in changes: boxes for LGBT for instance, not on the form previously. However, Sonya Thomas, LFB's former equality officer, commented that "while equality monitoring is a really positive step, we have to say why we're doing it, how it'll be used and assure people that the info will be treated confidentially".

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary, introduced the evening's panel, referring to injecting "much-needed" diversity into journalism, both in the industry and in the union.

Adnan Nawaz, BBC News presenter, first asked us: "How many of you are journalists?" ... "Most", as the hands went up. Then: "How many of you have done journalism training for at least a year?" ... "About half."

Adnan then mentioned a two-screen presentation of an interview alongside what was claimed to be a demonstration "in Pakistan". But it wasn't: an image had been incorrectly chosen by someone without adequate cultural knowledge to recognise its Arabian source. Adnan claimed "That's the point of diversity".

On his own career, Adnan stressed desire to do the job and making good use of contacts. "People will judge you on how and who they think you are... I don't think of myself as Asian, but people see me as such." Nevertheless, Adnan stressed the breadth of perspectives he brings, considering numerous angles that might not occur to a journalist without such a richness of experience, having lived in various places, with a heritage of several ethnicities and languages.

Robin Elias, managing editor at ITV News, endorsed Adnan's message, stressing diversity "makes commercial sense" when you need to reach a growing BAME audience, saying "I'm interested in more diverse talent, not white Oxbridge".

Next Tunde Ogungbesan, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Succession at the BBC for the last nine months, made us laugh by announcing that not only is he "not a journalist" but that, when asked to do his current job, "I realised I didn't watch the BBC... it didn't reflect my reality". However, he claimed "now is a good time", acknowledging Lenny Henry and the many battling to improve equality of representation. BBC "data look better than you would think: 13.4 per cent BAME, higher than the workforce 11.9 per cent". However, "disability is only 3.6 per cent at the BBC; LGBT is 5 per cent, but we know it's higher in the media, so we should ask why people are not disclosing".

Within the BBC, Tunde described "discovering I'm Black in a way I hadn't in all my career at Shell", highlighting the existence of "siloes", and the need to have training in "unconscious bias".

In pride of place was Kuba, representing the George Viner Award students, who is completing an MA in Newspaper Journalism at City University, London. Kuba pointed out that "if people from different backgrounds can't get into journalism their voices will not be heard".

Discussion then opened to all.

Marie Stewart, MBE, of Taylor Stewart Associates, stressed the need to take "care not to get pigeon-holed", but also advised "do not lose the fact that we add value, because of connections and cultural understandings". Adnan agreed.

Answering a question on "unconscious bias training", Tunde said "Many people who think they get racism and diversity, don't. They need help."

Seeking to make the most of diversity in our union is something Magda Ibrahim, an Equality Officer of the London Freelance Branch is enquiring into collaboratively with this open-ended online survey, which will close in May: see here

Don't miss your chance to make a contribution to the discussion of the meaning of "equality" for us freelances.

Last modified: 02 May 2016 - © 2016 contributors
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