Monday, 21 October 2019

A Victory! BBC agree to fund BAME journalism in same way it funds local newspapers


I am not one for hyperbole but...

...possibly the biggest development in UK media diversity was announced on Monday 21st October and nobody noticed.


In the short-run the announcement will be a lifeline to BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) journalism providing them with much needed finance. But more importantly it could reshape the entire diversity debate provide a precedent for good practice for years to come.


WHAT IS THE ANNOUNCEMENT?

The BBC has got a special fund for "Local News Partnerships". It was set up in recognition that local newspapers and local journalism play an essential role in our local democracy. They expose important local stories - sometimes with national significance - that national and international media organisations just miss. And finally they provide an essential pipeline for local journalists to enter larger mainstream news outlets. But local newspapers are in financial difficulties - we cannot afford for them to go to the wall.

The BBC's fund financially supports around 140 journalists in different local newspapers to the tune of £8 million.

The BBC is not the only media organisation who recognises the importance of local journalism and supports it. Google and Facebook both have schemes to financially support local journalism and a government select committee published the Cairncross Review in February arguing the government should do the same.  

I not only support these initiatives but have argued in the past that all the reasons for supporting local news apply to supporting the "ethnic press" and BAME media organisations like; The Voice, Black Ballad, Eastern Eye, etc.

So in February after the publication of the Cairncross Review I spoke to fellow diversity champions and had meetings with BBC executives, Facebook executives and one or two MPs who had been on the government committee.

And guess what - the BBC heard us!


BAME MEDIA ORGANISATION CAN NOW GET EXTRA MONEY
  
Six months after my initial meeting with the BBC they have revised their criteria for media organisations to apply the Local News Partnership funding. 

It now states the local news provider must: 

"Target an audience typically located in a specific geographical area which is no greater than a single Nation of the UK or which targets a BAME community of the UK"

That means the Voice, Eastern Eye, Black Ballad, Gal Dem, can all now apply for funding.


IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN FUNDING A FEW BAME JOURNALISTS

The announcement however is far more important than funding just a few BAME journalists - important as that is. 

For a long time campaigners for BAME media diversity have pointed out that attempts to increase regional diversity (supporting local newspapers, producing more programmes outside of London) have been backed by real money and real jobs. While efforts to increase BAME diversity have usually been in the shape of mentoring schemes, more training, or onscreen initiatives.

Over the last twelve years efforts to increase regional diversity have been extremely successful, while efforts to increase BAME diversity behind the camera have been incremental at best.

There is also the natural tension that increases in regional diversity to areas outside London can be detrimental to the BAME community that is heavily concentrated in London. 

The BBC announcement sets a precedent that every person wanting to increase BAME diversity will be able to point to from now on.

It says that BAME diversity should be treated in exactly the same way as regional diversity  with financial support.

When the BBC and Channel 4 for example ring-fences money for regional productions it is hard to justify why no money should be ring-fenced for BAME productions if the BBC recognises this important principle with its Local News Partnerships.


WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

In the short run the BBC needs to be applauded for what it has just done. I cannot stress enough that I went to ALL the large media organisations with schemes to support local journalism arguing that they should include BAME journalism. ONLY THE BBC CHANGED ITS POLICY.

We also now need BAME media organisations to apply for the money that is rightfully theirs. There is no point fighting for a change if we do not then follow through. Taking the money does not compromise your editorial position in anyway, all the local newspapers that take the BBC money are fiercely independent and do not hesitate to criticise the BBC when they think it is necessary.

We now need to go back to the government select committee, Google and Facebook and restate why they should follow the BBC's example.

And lastly we should argue that the BBC should not stop here. It should look at all of its policies to support regional diversity and see how they can adapt those successful methods to support not just BAME diversity but all other types of diversity including; LGBTQ+, disability and gender.

But before we do all that we might just want to go and get a drink. We don't often get wins like this one - this is worth celebrating.

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