Paul Deal, Manager, BBC Journalism Recruitment Project
26 March 2009
1. What role should the media play in promoting diversity and social cohesion in Britain and in Europe?
The media must reflect society in all its diversity. It has a responsibility not to unnecessarily jeopardise social cohesion. It also needs to think carefully about not creating stereotypes of any section of society. I’m a firm believer in media freedom and I don’t think there should be lots of prescription but journalists have to understand their responsibilities to the wider society. We can't operate in a vacuum. But at the same time, the media must not duck difficult issues or do anything less than tell the full truth, however uncomfortable.
2. Should the media act as a ''responsible partner'' in an increasingly multicultural environment?
This is a difficult area. For instance, an impartial news organisation needs to reflect a full diversity of opinions. The question presupposes that multiculturalism is a good thing. Yet if many in the UK do not feel this way – and many don’t – should we not reflect that?
3. How would you respond to the complaint that freedom of speech allows extremists too great an access to the media?
A full diversity of opinions is crucial to a functioning society. But so is the proper challenging of those opinions.
4. How would you respond to the general criticism that the media is closed to ethnic minorities?
I don’t think it is true. It may be that in parts of the world the media is, in effect, closed to ethnic minorities but that is certainly not the situation in the UK. Broadcasters including the BBC, ITV and Channel Four and a number of publishers are extremely anxious to have a more representative workforce and are taking active steps.
5. How would you respond to the complaint that media reporting of ethnic communities is generally unfavourable?
The compacted time frames of news leads to ‘shorthand’ labelling. That shorthand can easily lead to stereotypes. We must be careful about this.
We are getting smarter at avoiding these stereotypes; and we are much more open and accountable than we have been – which engenders a more healthy two-way debate with audiences.
Journalists tend to look for bad news and I don’t think that is an ethnic minority issue. The typical approach of the journalist is to look for what went wrong. I can see the situation is more sensitive because of the ethnic minorities issue but I think in recent years, the coverage has changed. We are getting better at covering the positive aspects of our ethnic communities as well as reporting the bad news.
6. What steps could be taken to encourage more ethnic minorities into the media?
Raising aspirations has to start at the school stage. It’s why the BBC School Report project is so important. We have journalists working in hundreds of schools, many of them in the inner cities, showing young people how we write and order the news.
Work experience schemes also make a contribution to diversity, especially where we offer help with expenses for people from less advantaged backgrounds. We've also stopped marking people’s educational history to widen access. What we want is passion for journalism, real noseyness and good writing.
All trainees in the BBC’s Journalism Trainee Scheme have two mentors - one in their local office and one elsewhere in the BBC, looking out for them, pointing out how things work, explaining the culture and being there to support them if they’ve had a difficult day.
7. How has the media been changed by the development of Europe into multi-cultural societies?
It's more diverse. The media is not a homogenous body. It's made up of individuals. There are different editors and publishers with different outlooks. But I think that there are many people working in the media who recognise that our cities have changed over the years with the lifting of the borders in Europe and migration.
8. What measures still need to be taken by media organisations to adapt to Europe’s multi-cultural environment?
I know that media organisations in the UK, including the BBC, have made good progress in connecting with the many communities who live there.
We are seeing greater proximity to communities through local broadcasting; more openness and accountability and a greater willingness to engage with communities about their concerns.