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Diversity in the media: Hot air shared is hot air cooled

GROUND-BREAKING: Harry Roselmack is the first black anchorman on France’s TV news show

IN RECENT times I have been lucky enough to attend two different events covering diversity in the media. One was hosted by the Runnymede Trust and held at The Guardian’s offices (entrance fee: free). You could call this the left wing event.

The other was held by DiverCity (a fairly new organisation championing diversity) at The Groucho Club (entrance fee: £20). As the latter was chaired and hosted by prominent members of the Conservative Party I’ll call it the right wing event.

Although from the left and right of the spectrum both events in my view were very similar. Both identified the same problem, they were both led by black organisations, both had political and media power present and both, it would seem, arrived at the exactly the same almost inevitable conclusion: hot air shared is hot air cooled. By that I mean passionately airing the problem is great but without agreeing concrete solutions it leaves attendees feeling like they just left a group therapy session. They are calmer but not much better off.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not poo-pooing the significant efforts of the Runnymede Trust and DiverCity. Quite the contrary, I praise them to no end for not only doing something, but doing something significant. Something that will help propel us forward a little, hopefully a lot. They are striving to put diversity and therefore race ‘back on the agenda’. This is good. This should be commended.

My only problem is the fact that in addition to these two recent events (in which I got to meet many people I’ve long admired…and Shaun Bailey) most of us have been to many similar get-togethers. On the left and right, macro and mirco levels and we all arrive at the same point: as far as diversity in the media is concerned we know what the illness is, we just have to demand that the prescription be issued.

For clarity, what stops the London-centric media from being as diverse as the population of London or the UK even? The answer is no different from the main deterrents to diversity in any other industry, organisation or institution: power, privilege and prejudice. And these three themes thoroughly reinforce each other.

People who fall outside of this axis of power, privilege and positive prejudice are likely to be underrepresented at the table. So it goes without saying that people of historically oppressed ethnicities and socio-economic classes are likely to be deeply impacted by this. And they are.
So how do we overcome this? How do we level the playing field? As far as the media is concerned it is one non-negotiable word: quotas.

No amount of begging, tap-dancing, not-saying-the-R-word-ing, smiling and fluffing will change a thing. Only quotas will make serious and lasting change. Power is not voluntarily given up, this has to be by force. If we are serious about diversity in the media or diversity pretty much anywhere in Britain we should be coming together to discuss how quotas can be best implemented. If not our children’s children will be exchanging hot-air in grandiose venues on the less than fairly simple concept of diversity.

Although I hate the argument it must be said: having quotas doesn’t mean that standards have to be lowered to let people of less privileged and powerful backgrounds in. Not by any means. The talent within these communities speaks for itself (as was clearly evident at both events I attended). Quotas are just a mechanism to help level the playing field in order to assist those talented people who would normally be at a ‘natural disadvantage’ (even though this is clearly a man-made issue). The obvious lack of talent often identified amongst the privileged and powerful, the great and the good is alarming.

‘I don’t want anyone to think I got my job as a result of a quota’ is the usual argument trotted out as a means of shooting down the only effective way of balancing the playing field. We need to start challenging this intellectually lazy cliché head-on. Why would anyone be so insecure to care about what anyone thinks of how they got their job when the very person whose thoughts you worry about so much has probably had more than a few career favours that he is quietly keeping to himself.

Quotas are what we need and are what we should demand as a collective united voice. Nothing less will suffice. Let us save time and money on the round table chats about ‘the problem’. We know what the problem is, just go for the solution.

And once diversity is achieved we can move on to equality because, let’s be frank, it wasn’t like diversity was ever a problem on the plantations.

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