Hasan Patel: Seville conference

In multi-cultural Britain, reporting on issues concerning minority communities and diversity is something many of us at the BBC take for granted. The role and impact of reporting on diverse communities was brought home to me when I represented the BBC at a recent Council of Europe conference in Seville.

Some 40 European media professionals came together with representatives of cross-cultural organisations to share best practices on reporting diversity and discrimination, examining media treatment – locally in Andalusia and across Europe.

We wanted to develop better understanding of and methods for overcoming discrimination by using more objective reporting. Greater interaction between mainstream and ethnic media was a key focus.

From the outset, it was clear that the rest of Europe views the BBC as playing a leading role in this field. Delegates were intrigued by the way BBC Radio Leicester creates a sense of community by taking an interest in, and reporting on, various religious and cultural events. The use of individuals from diverse backgrounds as experts within a range of professional fields, including medicine and the arts, was seen as innovative. The vast range of contributors on our 'Thought For The Day' segment in particular, was viewed as highly constructive in engaging widely with audiences.

The Spanish experience was stark. Compared to the diversity you find in BBC output, Spanish regional tv and radio dedicates only three percent of air time to reports on minority communities – all of it, negative reporting.

There was a unanimous feeling that the media within Europe needs to enhance its understanding of different communities, requiring engagement at all levels.

I made a start by producing a radio report in Seville with a Spanish counterpart, asking young Moroccans on the streets basic questions about their views on identity, faith, loyalty and nationhood. Ours and others’ responses were presented back to the conference, and our findings were that the same debates are taking place within minority communities across Europe.

The consensus was that the role of the media should be to facilitate these debates by using diverse contributors rather than looking at the subject with myopic vision. On the streets of Seville, I used my experiences with BBC Radio Leicester and our engagement here with Asian youngsters. We do not just focus on the fundamentals of identity and belonging, but widen our approach to include issues which we know are important to young people, like sport and entertainment.

The greatest challenge remained engaging with communities and using their experiences to depict positive stories – involving minorities in ‘non-ethnic’ reports. One of the biggest hurdles for reporters in Europe to overcome is the media’s close association of third generation sons and daughters of immigrants with current waves of immigrants.

The BBC hasn’t got everything right in reflecting diversity and should not be complacent, but it has a good deal to offer Europe in terms of guidance on practical approaches that reap benefits.