Top MP tells of personal experience of BBC 'racism'

Outspoken British shadow minister Clive Lewis has blasted BBC bosses for their failure to combat barriers in the organisation that have prevented Black people like himself getting promotion. 

The newly-elected MP for Norwich South, who was the chief political reporter for the public broadcaster's Look East TV news programme until he entered parliament in May and became a frontbench energy and climate change spokesman, told a mainly Black National Union of Journalists (NUJ) audience: "Whilst I’m extremely grateful to the BBC for the chances it did give me, I, like many other Black and ethnic minority employees of Aunty know there is a glass ceiling when it comes to progress at the BBC."

Black staff face a BBC 'glass ceiling'

Lewis, a key left-wing ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and a former NUJ father of the chapel (shop steward) at the BBC, was the keynote speaker at the NUJ Black Members Council's annual lecture at the end of last month in memory of Claudia Jones, the Black Communist journalist and activist who was one of the founders of the Notting Hill Carnival. 

He said he had spent 15 years of his life as both a newspaper and BBC journalist. Lewis gave an alarming example of racism he had experienced first hand in his job.

The handsome MP said: "I’m not going to name any names. I think it would be unfair on this manager. But I remember I was pushing to present a regional news programme and, as we were walking down the stairs talking about this and I was hassling him, literally hassling him about why I had been here [at the BBC] for so many years and yet wasn’t being given the same opportunity that some people, my white colleagues who were coming in who I didn’t think personally were more talented than me were being put in front of screen and presenting."

You are just not what our viewers are looking for

"And he said, in a kind of burst of anger,  ‘look, you are just not what our viewers are looking for’ and I stopped on the stairs and I said “I beg your pardon?’ And he clearly realised what he had said and back-tracked. Tried to apologise. He said ‘we’ll look into it and think about it’. But I think that quite clearly shows, to my mind,  quite clearly the kind of barriers that Black and ethnic minority individuals face across media but also at the BBC.”

Disgusting the BBC had to be threatened with legal action

Lewis added: “So, again, in parliament, another example: speaking to one of the founders of Creative Access, it’s a charity set up to encourage mainstream media outlets to to take on hundreds  of Black and ethic minority interns. I discovered they had to threaten the BBC with legal action to take part in the scheme. Now I find, as someone who pays for the BBC, as a Black person who pays for the BBC, I find that disgusting. And this, despite the evidence showing that 82 percent of new entrants to journalism had previously worked as interns. However, 92 percent of these internships were entirely unpaid, thus putting them, and the overwhelming advantage they accrued, out of the reach of many aspiring Black and ethic minority  journalists.”

He went on: “As one commentator on the issue said. ‘the discrimination is obvious. All you have to do is count.’ So, let's count. The 2013 National Council for the Training of Journalists’ At Work reports show that 94 percent of all UK journalists are white. While, in 2012, the New Statesman counted the total number of writers on the comment and opinion pages of eight national newspapers. They discovered that in one week all of the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express writers were white. No shock there."

"Research found there were just five Black writers with regular weekly columns and two of those writers were women. The highest ratio of BAME (Black and Minority Ethic) writers was found at the Guardian and the Financial Times. Both with a whopping eight per- cent."