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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

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