MAM: Tokenism is not enough. The British media needs to change

When I was growing up in the 1980s there were few Black or Asian faces on the TV, few Black or Asian faces writing in the newspapers and few Black or Asian voices on the radio.

In fact, I could count on my hand the number of Black or Asian faces prominent in the British media: Trevor Macdonald, Moira Stuart, Baz Bamigboye, Lenny Henry. I would love to say things changed in the 1990s.

Well, not by much. There was Trevor Macdonald, Baz. No wait, there was Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Samira Ahmed, Mishal Husain, Naga Munchetty, Konnie Huq, Sathnam Sanghera, Sarfraz Manzoor.

I do applaud the respective news organisations hiring these people to represent diversity, and integration in the British media. Well done BBC, Channel 4, Guardian, Telegraph, the Times.

These media professionals are just token gestures by the British media (although welcome). Their appointments still amount for discrimination, positive discrimination albeit, and are not representative at all.

No doubt they were made by white middle-aged male TV executives given the brief of diversity. A note to these TV executives. Commissioning a BBC TV programme like Citizen Khan is not really “ticking all the diversity boxes” or launching the BBC Asian Network, does not mean ‘people like me’ have been catered for.

This desire for change, spurred me to get a job at a national newspaper in the early 2000s, I thought ‘hooray’ – I would be one of many ethnic journalists, I would start a revolution from within with my brown comrades. Sadly, no. Only a token few. Those who had already climbed the corporate ladder had kicked the ladder away for the next person.

To add insult to injury, I was often mistaken for one of the correspondent’s sister on numerous occasions, perhaps because we were the only Asian’s in the newsroom, we must be related! Imagine if that happened to every white British journalist in a newsroom?

So is the strategy for the British media to just hire a certain ethnic type to “tick all the diversity boxes?”

My two Scottish cousins have worked for the BBC for over 20 years now – one for BBC Scotland and the other has just been poached by Times Radio and is a former BBC 5 Live and BBC Radio 4 presenter. Both “tick the diversity boxes” – female, Glaswegian, Pakistani, so at least their bosses are happy.

If things are going to change in the British media – hiring ethnic minorities in ‘isolation’ has to an end. It is difficult for one person to start a revolution. Why not hire groups of ethnic media professionals at the same time not just one?

When you hire a Black or Asian media personality do not fall into the trap of over-exposure. They do not need to present or star in everything from game shows, natural history programmes to reality TV shows.

And to all those editors, I have worked with over the decades.

No, I am not an expert in General Pervez Musharraf, just because my parents are Pakistani. I don’t listen to Asian drum n’ bass because I am Asian (I like indie guitar music for the record). I do not often ‘go back home’ to Pakistan for holiday (I prefer Lake Garda). My favourite actors are not solely Sanjeev Bhasker or Dev Patel. Although, Sanjeev Bhasker played the role of a forgetful Asian doctor very well in Paddington 2.

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