When Interns Are Unpaid, We All Suffer

08/07/2012 19:34 BST | Updated 07/09/2012 10:12 BST

The arguments as to the inequity of unpaid internships are well rehearsed. Only the moneyed can afford to spend their holidays working for free, so only the moneyed gain the experience needed to build a CV strong enough to prevail in this weak job market. The well-off get jobs, the rich get richer, and until the economy stops sucking, the poor are left on the dole ad infinitum. Not only do they exacerbate already inexcusable financial inequality, but unpaid internships are exploitative and, lest we forget, illegal.

But there is another phenomenon brewing on this fire, slower burning but equally chilling, in the way that unpaid internships in the media may come to shape our political map.

Newspapers, magazines, television and radio are probably second only to the arts sector in their blatant, repeated abuse of young people in this way. One friend has been offered a six month internship in New York at a renowned international publication - unpaid. Another is spending a month writing copy at a newspaper, and isn't getting travel expenses. Many others not only receive nothing, but learn nothing, spending their hours, often over many months, tidying fashion cupboards, answering phones, making sure the photocopiers haven't run out of paper. Media internships take 'making the tea' to the next level.

And the people who can afford such protracted spells without pay? The rich. And so, after six to 12 months of said gratuitous hard graft, they are the ones who finally get offered a junior position. Or they take Route B and shell out £9,000 for a post-graduate journalism course and are generally employed at the end of it. Either way, jobs in the media go to the well-to-do. But the worst is not over, because then, they start to write. Or edit, or produce or present. Yes, the future of our media is in the hands of those whom, at the age of 21, have - factoring in living expenses - around 15 grand to blow.

They will be writing our newspapers, dictating our TV schedules, picking the guests on Women's Hour. People who have never encountered the dole, council housing, or been affected by rising food prices will be at the helm of by far the most powerful political lobbyists in the UK: the media.

Even as one of those privileged few, I believe that this shift will diminish the ability of the media to uphold some of its key aims. How can authority be held to account, when, like it or not, all of those writing are essentially members of the establishment? Or its work represent the views of society, when members of the fold only come from its upper echelons? Unpaid internships are not just abuse of young people, everyone will suffer.