Yesterday (Thursday 23 August) the leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech which outlined ambitious plans for the media, and how that might look in a new, more digitally-focused, environment.
Aside from the ideas about the responsibilities of ‘tech-giants’ I was particularly interested in the suggestions for a more democratic, representative and independent BBC. I used to work for the BBC as a broadcast journalist. I joined because I am a believer in the importance of having a quality and representative media for the functioning of our democracy. And I am tuned into the importance of the BBC institution as a standard bearer for the quality the country needs, not because it always achieves it, but because it openly aspires to it and is publically accountable.
Diversity in the media is really important – not just making sure that people are represented, but making sure that the diversity of worldview and thought they bring is brought to bear in choosing which stories are told, what questions are asked and which voices are sought out and heard. At present, the answers to these critical questions are determined by a narrow sliver of our society which means we get the world according to them. Just as in the political sphere, a media that lacks diversity will be unable to fully understand, connect with or serve the people. And so I support the call to challenge the BBC to lead the way in shaping out media to be representative of our diversity.
It’s a timely call from a Bristol perspective. From class, to ethnicity to gender, our administration embodies diversity in political leadership in a way the city hasn’t experienced before. And we have been working with Bristol’s media companies to help them develop a plan to generate, recruit from and then retain and promote a more diverse workforce. From the City Leadership Programme to Stepping Up to the City Leadership Challenge we have established vehicles through which talent can develop and access opportunity.
For our nation’s media sector, diversity isn’t only accessed through gender, race, class and other protected characteristics. The sector must also include regional voices outside of the traditionally London focused media bubble. So I was pleased that Jeremy expressed his support for Channel 4 re-locating an HQ and hubs outside of London, noting the effect this will have towards ‘rebalancing Britain’. Bristol’s media sector, working with the council and regional partners, is currently bidding for one of C4’s new Creative Hubs, and we believe that Bristol would be a natural fit.
Giving charitable status to some local, investigative and public interest journalism is also an important proposal. Local journalism is a key part of strong local democracy. Community radio stations such as Ujima FM and BCFM have been on the forefront which schemes such as Citizen Journalists, stepping up where they have felt the mainstream media outlets have failed. However, many have recognised the intense pressures put on print media because of the popularity of social media. It is not surprising to see journalists driven toward sensationalist headlines focussed on stoking and then reporting controversy, conflict and division at the expense of level-headedness, insight and accuracy. ‘Click-bait’ headlines and articles, as they are called, are in danger of becoming the norm in response to an advertisement sales drive market. This deterioration of our media is disappointing – especially at a time we need a robust journalism that has the credibility to be able to challenge the troubling rise of extremist populism.
Given the loss of trust in much of our traditional media, there may be a long way to go before we build a media which works for the many and not the few. However it is good to see its importance acknowledged and to see new ideas about how to deliver an inclusive and diverse media.