Why increasing diversity is not unfair to white people

Telegraph article about the BBC misleadingly implies that white applicants are discriminated against

The Telegraph reported yesterday that half of the places on the BBC training scheme had gone to candidates from an ethnic minority.

Is this a good thing, in an organisation that Greg Dyke famously described as "hideously white"? Not quite: misleadingly, it is framed as discrimination against white people.

The article implies that minority applicants are improperly and disproportionately favoured:

Fifty-one places have been made available under the BBC's Journalism Trainee Scheme since 2007. Of these 24 have gone to candidates from ethnic minorities -- 47 per cent. The latest estimate by the Office for National Statistics is that six million of the 54 million population of England and Wales is non-white -- 11 per cent.

It is spurious to draw a link between these two percentages. For starters, there are very few contexts -- workplace or otherwise -- that precisely reflect the demographic of the wider population.

What about the fact, for instance, that 54 per cent of leading journalists, 42 per cent of frontbench politicians and 70 per cent of barristers were privately educated? Only 7 per cent of the population goes to private school.

More importantly, such a comparison suggests that the BBC is complicit in some kind of anti-white, ethnic-minority takeover. The BBC employs 25,000 people worldwide, a substantial portion of them in Britain. In this context, 24 traineeships -- which do not guarantee a job afterwards -- begin to look like a drop in the ocean.

The article quotes a (rejected) white applicant complaining that it was unfair that he had been asked about "developing stories that would be of interest to ethnic minorities". Why is this unfair? The BBC is a public-service broadcaster, and as such needs to appeal to a broad audience. Would it also be unfair if a private school candidate was asked how he or she would develop stories that would engage an uneducated audience?

My main problem with the piece is its implication that the candidates could not have been selected on merit, or that the white applicants would somehow have been better suited to the job, in every instance.

The article concedes that "under the Race Relations Act 1976, organisations can offer training to specific groups that are under-represented in their workforce". It is an indisputable fact that ethnic minorities are under-represented in the media. You have only to walk into the vast majority of newspaper offices to see that for yourself.

The BBC is obviously stepping up its efforts to attract a more diverse range of applicants. That it is appointing more ethnic minorities to the training scheme is not evidence, however, that those people were appointed solely because of their racial background: they will have performed excellently in their interviews and been selected on merit.

A key aim of the trainee scheme is -- and has always been -- to increase diversity. The Telegraph's implied argument that this is unfair to white candidates falls down, because the odds are still stacked against ethnic minorities entering the workplace. Research based on ONS figures found that graduates from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds were 10 per cent less likely to find employment than their white counterparts (56.3 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively, found jobs). Until this is equalised, the argument that white candidates are being discriminated against is redundant.

The Telegraph itself reported last year that just 4.4 per cent of BBC managers were from an ethnic minority. If this is changing, even incrementally, it is a good thing.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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