Diversity in UK Media – Ofcom’s Report Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Last week Ofcom published the first in what it says will be a regular series of reports into diversity and equal opportunities in television. It focuses on the biggest UK television broadcasters: BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Sky and Viacom (owner of Channel 5 amongst others).

Diversity remains a key concern in the media industry, from representation throughout media organisations, to issues surrounding pay discrimination based on sex.

But I really do have a bone to pick with this, and nearly every report on diversity in UK broadcasting. They don’t go far enough.

Sharon White, Ofcom’s CEO says in her introduction to the report: “Too many people from minority groups struggle to get into television. That creates a cultural disconnection between the people who make programmes, and the many millions who watch them.”

This is undoubtedly true, despite schemes that are set up across the industry.

The report breaks employees into the following categories:

  • Gender
  • Racial group (BAME)
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion and belief

The report dutifully compares each of the measured broadcasters against both the population at large, UK based industry, and the average amongst the peers. From this we see, for example, that Channel 4 does well amongst BAME staff, while Viacom does well with women in leadership roles.

But there’s a glaring hole in this analysis, and it’s one that pervades UK media.

Social class.

It’s just not measured. And without that we’re missing something fundamental from our broadcasters.

I’m not saying the other factors aren’t important – they are. And sometimes those other measures can be indicative of social class. But while media has a widely acknowledged considerable issue with new entrants coming into the sector, unless they’re supported by family members (bank of mum and dad), and can support themselves in London while they do unpaid “work experience”, then for all those other measures, we’re going to only get people who come from wealthier backgrounds.

Everybody knows this. It was mentioned in a good episode of The Media Show from the RTS Cambridge TV Festival this week.

So I’m not at all sure why it’s not included in Ofcom’s report. It’s critical that this is measured to truly show diversity in the media.

[UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up to this piece, detailing some ways this data could actually be collated.]

3 Comments

  1. It seems the BBC, at least, are starting to think about this: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/sep/15/posh-bbc-removes-qualifications-from-cvs-of-job-applicants

    However I wonder if the reason some organisations find it difficult to track this is both in defining the parameters and also collecting the data that reflects them? From the Gruaniad report above, the BBC are using measures like public/private schooling attendance and parental education status.

    Whilst some people may voluntarily choose to reveal the former on their CV, it’s not something that’s neccesarily available for everyone. And the latter is very specific info that could only be revealed by direct questioning, which some people may choose to ignore (if they’re even asked).

    Without a national standard and specific approval to collect the associated data, it’s going to be difficult to track this transparently across all organisations, large and small.

    The BBC can probably sample this sort of info and extrapolate it across their entire staff base, but in many media companies that may not be possible (even if they wanted to do it).

  2. Hi Gavin,

    You are right that the problem is the collection of the data. As you note, the BBC used a staff survey to measure privilege based on education level and parents. It’s a large organisation, and is able to commission a survey in this way.

    That said, I think the other organisations specifically measured in the Ofcom report are of a scale that they would be able to capture similar data. Yes, it’s sensitive information, and data that an organisation wouldn’t ordinarily capture about its staff. But then so is sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

    Just because data isn’t easy to capture, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to capture it.

    Anyway, I feel a follow up post is needed following a few comments scattered around social media.

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