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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Awards celebrate ethnic diversity

The UK's media community has celebrated the contribution of blacks and Asians in the third annual Ethnic Minority Media Awards - the Emmas.

With nominees drawn from both the ethnic and mainstream media, the awards recognised excellence in terrestrial and cable television, film, journalism and entertainment.

Spice Girl Mel B was named public figure of the year for promoting Aids awareness; The Voice won the best publication award; and spoof presenter Ali G won the television entertainment award. Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, received a lifetime achievement award.

Ex-EastEnder Jimi Mistry, centre, is up for the best actor award

Although non-whites make up 8% of the population - and 25% of the population in London, where most media jobs are based - a survey by award sponsors BT shows just 5% of the UK's media professionals are black or Asian.

The survey found that the number of ethnic minority students enrolled in media courses had risen from 306 in 1995 to 865 in 1999. The number of non-white journalism students has shot up by 94%, and the National Film and Television School reports a rise of about 8%.

When the awards started in 1998, just one in 100 media professionals were black or Asian, says Emma organiser and founder, Bobby Ayyub Syed.

Trouble at the chalkface

Although there has been explosion in media catering for the different communities in the UK, some of the courses tailored to boost the proportion of non-white journalists have foundered.

BBC's Trevor Nelson
Radio 1's Trevor Nelson: Up for media personality award

The Tower Hamlets journalists' training programme in London, set up to cater for applicants outside the white middle classes, folded this year.

Many students, who had been unemployed or in casual jobs before joining the course, dropped out because they could not afford to support themselves. Falling class numbers reduced the funding available, forcing the course to close.

In 1998, the University of Westminster had to rethink its postgraduate diploma in journalism, which had catered exclusively for students from ethnic minorities since 1983.

Now, half the places on the course are reserved for black and Asian students.

Course leader Jim Latham says although there had been no drop-off in applications, or in the standard of applicants, too few students turned up on day one with a cheque for the course fees in hand.

"They were having bigger problems than other students getting loans to finance their studies."

Affirmative action

He says the key is to improve access to education, and for employers to follow the United States' lead on positive action policies. Those policies need to be followed up with rigorous selection and training programmes.

"I agree that the phrase 'positive action' puts people's hackles up, but there's no question that the Americans have dealt with the problem very effectively."

About 15% of newspaper journalists in the US are non-white, according to figures from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Two years ago, the organisation dropped its 20-year-old campaign to make the newsroom reflect the country's ethnic make-up.

Of the 3,000 journalists working on national newspapers in the UK, just 1% is black or Asian.

Trevor Nelson
Broadcaster Trevor Phillips: Nominated for public figure of the year

Broadcasting has proved more open to applicants from a variety of backgrounds, says Mr Syed.

But he doubts the value of positive action, because some employers opt for tokenism and take the first suitable black or brown applicant.

"If they're not very good, they leave and are never replaced."

Mr Latham says the BBC led the way when it introduced a scheme to set aside a number of its news trainee places for ethnic minorities, a move followed by other free-to-air networks.

Although the corporation has now met its target of 8% non-white staff, director-general Greg Dyke intends to up that figure to 10% by 2003.

About 10% of staff at both Carlton and LWT - London's ITV broadcasters - are from an ethnic minority, and 11.5% at Channel 4.

But the majority of editors on mainstream newspapers reject positive action policies, says Mr Latham, and draw most of their recruits from the white middle classes.

"The editors will say: 'Colour means nothing to me, I'm just looking for good reporters.' All that means is that he will have no black or Asian journalists."

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See also:

07 Dec 99 | Entertainment
TV 'failing ethnic minorities'
23 May 00 | Entertainment
Emma awards: The winners
23 May 00 | Entertainment
Mel B joins stars at Emmas
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