The Blog

Great Britain Is Diverse, the Journalism Industry Is Not

Former BBC journalist Kurt Barling wouldn't think twice before agreeing that the industry faces diversity set-backs, after having been made redundant recently after 25 years at the organisation in a bid to make £700m in savings. The issue however isn't your classic redundancy situation..

Well-respected freelance journalist and broadcaster Kurt Barling.

Former BBC journalist Kurt Barling wouldn't think twice before agreeing that the industry faces diversity set-backs, after having been made redundant recently after 25 years at the organisation in a bid to make £700m in savings. The issue however isn't your classic redundancy situation.

Barling- who worked mainly for BBC London and is a professor of journalism at Middlesex University- has accused the BBC of ""institutional myopia or inertia" regarding its employability rates for ethnic minorities. This follows comments made by actor and comedian Lenny Henry to draft new legislation to change "appalling" figures of Black and Asian minorities in UK television. Unfortunately it appears that it will take a lot more than legislation to change things as employees in the television industry from an ethnic minority group have dropped by a third in the past six years. Up until last week, the veteran broadcaster was one of the longest-serving black journalists working for the corporation.

In an article for The Sunday Times Online, Barling spoke of his frustration at the lack of success in diversifying the workforce. Barling happened to stumble upon the Broadwater Farm riots nearly three decades ago and after witnessing atrocious violence, the tragedy led him to a journalistic path which he thought was a method to "bring fresh voices to the fore in public debate".

Kurt Barling pictured with Nicky Jacobs for a Newsnight exclusive.

Having been the reason behind the documentary "Who killed PC Blakelock?, Barling discovered a way into the industry liaising with Winston Silcott who was initially found guilty of the officer's murder, a conviction that was later overturned. Kurt exclusively interviewed Nicky Jacobs who was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter of PC Blakelock last week and commented, " scoop on the trial of Nicky Jacobs on Newsnight last week is a reminder of why I should try to continue to ply my trade there."

Kurt Barling and Reverend Jesse Jackson, December 2013.

Last December, Kurt managed to secure a visit by Reverend Jesse Jackson to Middlesex University whilst he was in the UK. The event was a sell out and I was privileged to interview one of the most well-known men in history. How? Well, simply because I asked. Through Kurt as a professor at my university, I was provided with the opportunity to interview a prominent black figure in society who made a difference fighting for racial equality. So why is it that despite the fact that there are such significant Black or Asian individuals in world history, they still face problems when trying to succeed in the 21st century?

The broadcaster went on to mention the values he felt he could subscribe to at the BBC: impartiality, accuracy, balance, fairness and decency. Having spent a long career investigating countless stories ranging from war, politics through to business and London life that were unheard of, Barling has witnessed an increasing amount of diversity among stories. As a journalist, he was able to cover various types of stories such as the impact in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell and Nigerian child trafficking.

As he was lucky enough to get access to Finsbury Park mosque in 1999, Barling closely followed Abu Hamza as he sensed he was a potential risk- who is currently on trial in New York- as he ran some form of an Al-Qaeda hostel. This led to Abu Hamza's lawyers accusing Kurt of anti-Islamic sentiment yet through his strong willpower and determination, he managed to put a story across that would otherwise have been unheard of. Barling's frustration can be understood as he asks, "Where is the critical mass of BAME (Black and asian ethnic minority) journalists in senior decision-making, strategic and leadership roles?" Whilst there are initiatives and schemes to help get ethnic minority groups on the ladder, Kurt notes that they are effectively pointless if no lasting change is made.

Stressing the importance of the BBC in a nation that tends to always be experiencing controversy, Kurt recognises how it has provided access to generations saying, " has provided a window on other people's worlds and provided a kind of social and cultural glue that has created national narratives in an often-divided nation."

Journalism is supposed to be about hearing stories from every angle, from every side, from every race or gender. Yet Kurt claims the BBC is not allowing this to happen effectively, "Too many communities still feel locked out of the national conversation. Failing to reflect diversity means the BBC is alienating a large part of its potential audience."

Kurt Barling says that the BBC is only marginally more diverse than in 1989 when he joined. Remarks like this make me think of the countless obstacles we face as student journalists. Not only is a degree no longer enough, getting hold of work experience is proving to be even tougher. But the struggle doesn't stop there, particularly for minority groups. This is something which Kurt could relate to as he speaks of how he was once accused of creating a false CV, merely because the thought of a highly qualified black journalist proved difficult to accept.

When asked whether the industry will still be facing a lack of diversity in 10 years' time, Kurt was not too optimistic ""If the industry and the BBC in particular does not get a grip on this lack of diversity soon, there is no reason to believe it will be any different in another 25 years' time. But then again if it doesn't change the BBC as we know it will not exist in a decade. The audience will have migrated elsewhere in disgust."

As his life-changing career spanning a quarter of a century at the BBC came to an end last week, Kurt left with the same drive and passion that led him to the corporation, "Bringing different voices to the story, challenging the way we see each other, reminding the audience of the need to search for the truth."

The Sunday Times article can be found here: