Banks' Notes 03.02.06

By David Banks

Like most journalists, particularly those of us
offered the occasional platform for broadcast punditry, I ranted and
raved and ridiculed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s accusation
of “institutional racism” in the media.

I dismissed his
comparison of the overwhelming coverage afforded the murder of a young
Welsh lawyer versus the attention paid to the killing that same day of
a middle-aged Asian man as unfair and unworthy, given the facts of both
cases.

Wasn’t it, I asked, a case of pot calling kettle? Hadn’t
the boss of a major force – which had itself faced that same charge
after an inquiry into police handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder –
simply come out swinging at the media, knowing that within 48 hours he
would have to admit to mistakes made in handling the fallout when his
own officers shot dead an innocent man?

But the more press
reaction I read – including Roy Greenslade’s balanced analysis in
Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph – the more I am tempted to ask: Did Britain’s
top copper get it dead right at the same time as he got it dead wrong?

There
is no more racism in the media – and, probably, no less – than the
positive and negative prejudices we all acquire from our collective and
individual experiences.

Sir Ian might have been nearer the mark had he railed against institutional classism.

When
almost exclusively white, well-paid, middle-class journalists alight on
the story of the savage murder of “one of their own” – a white,
well-paid, middle-class professional – it is a story to which they
automatically relate.

What I am suggesting is that the structure
of our industry and the very people who populate it are becoming skewed
towards an increasingly unrepresentative view of British society.

Old
fogies like me – and, maybe, real success stories such as Kelvin
MacKenzie and former NoW editor Patsy Chapman, who left school
requiring precisely no fingers on which to count their A Levels – might
once have blamed the university conveyor belt or those dratted media
degrees for the change.

Now there is a new culprit: work
experience. Unpaid internships which used to offer a brief taste of
life in the media have now become slave ships offering longer and
longer voyages with no share of the booty.

Ostensibly available
to all, they are out of the reach of kids – even graduates – from all
but the wealthiest backgrounds who have parents capable of supporting
their offspring while they acquire the necessary months of unpaid work
on a CV which might earn them a staff job one day.

That virtually
rules out wannabe journalists from “ordinary” backgrounds, kids from
council houses or minority communities who might broaden the spectrum
of experience when it comes to deciding “which murder should be
relegated to page 97”.

davidbanks@pressgazette.co.uk

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