Europe has always been a diverse continent. Whether it’s religious, ethnic, linguistic or other differences, state boundaries have only rarely (if ever) corresponded with individual, homogeneous national groups. This has often led to conflict (and Europeans have a long history of bashing each other over the head) but it also means Europe has historically been a dynamic and culturally rich place to be.
Yet, that diversity is rarely represented in European media. Study after study has shown that minorities are disproportionately represented in media in the EU. And when minorities are represented (for example, in major European newspapers), they are often confined to the sports or crime pages.
In the UK, the comedian Lenny Henry has been campaigning for greater diversity on television – both in front of and behind the camera. Arguing that the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK is “appalling” compared to their size within the British population, he wants to see funds put aside to boost their presence in the broadcasting industry. Henry argues that, if we want to see greater diversity on TV, in newspapers and in online media, then people working in the media industry also have to come from diverse backgrounds.
We had a comment sent in from one user arguing that a “meritocratic approach does not always work and there is need for regulation, especially when applicants are equally skilled”.
Should there be some sort of affirmative action in place in Europe’s media – be that quotas, tax incentives or public funds? We spoke to Samantha Asumadu, a documentary filmmaker who campaigns for greater media diversity in the UK and is founder of the website Media Diversified. How would she respond?
I absolutely do agree. I never thought I would, however I know the statistics, and there has to be a way to address this… I mean, since 2009, about two thousand ethnic minority people left the media industry in the UK. In the same period, employment grew by four thousand. Which means that for every black and Asian person that left the industry, two white people were given employment.
Those are stark statistics. And they’re not going to be addressed by a so-called ‘meritocratic’ approach… I’m not saying companies should employ unqualified black and Asian people, not at all, because there’s lots of qualified people. They just don’t get the chances.
Because, obviously, what you have is institutional structures, where the higher you go in an industry – any industry, but we’re talking about the media – the whiter it gets… If you don’t break through that sort of structural imbalance, where you get jobs for your mates and jobs for people that look like you, then you’ll never get anywhere. So, yes, I do believe there needs to be an accelerated program where black and Asian people are being put to the front of the queue, which really just means giving them an equal chance…
To get another reaction, we also spoke to Anne-Claire Orban, a media educator based in Belgium. What would she say?
There is absolutely a problem of minority representation in media, but quotas seem like quite an arbitrary way of solving it. Who would decide the quotas? I’m not sure that quotas would be the best practice in the media. I think it’s more about teaching young people to take a critical approach to the media, be aware of bias, do their research and get their news from a lot of different sources. It’s also important to encourage journalists to go out of their comfort zone, and interview people from different backgrounds, including minorities.
I think we do need to encourage greater minority representation in the media, but I’m not sure that quotas would be the solution.
Should there be quotas to ensure ethnic diversity in European media? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!