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.