So, Labour and Alan Milburn have expressed real concern at the lack of social mobility in Britain. Finally, Labour are conceding that this is not the meritocratic utopia we all thought it was. All day long on BBC Radio 4, Milburn’s comments to the Today Show were being relayed. It is, we’re told, much harder to get into the ‘top jobs’ if you didn’t go to a private school. We’re known this for a while, but it’s great to know that a Labour government has done nothing about it, instead presiding over decreasing social mobility for the last 12 years.  Producing a report on the eve of several terms of Tory government will achieve, if you’ll excuse my French (or Latin?), fuck all.

Yet hearing of this shocking news via the media, and in particular BBC Radio 4, it’s even more interesting due to the frequent references made to fields such as law and medicine. I imagine it’s extremely hard to break into these fields; not only do you have to be bright and extremely driven, apparently you also need the network that goes with a public-school education.

But hang on, Radio 4! You forgot the media! In Britain, if you did not got to a public school you face a much trickier time getting into the news-gathering sections of the media, with perhaps the exception of the tabloid press (which I know little about).  As much as those with great jobs in broadcasting and broadsheets might fail to mention it, nepotism and networking are just as important in ‘getting in’ to ‘the media’ as they are when securing other ‘good jobs.’  The BBC, unfortunately (for all its many qualities), is not a place where the steps to the door of employment are at the same height for all who want in. Almost two years ago I underwent a work-placement at the Milbank offices, and was even asked what school I went to. He didn’t know of it.

Yet the answer to the problems of elitism and social-mobility, whether in media, law or politics, is clearly not to be found easily, or else a centre-left government would have probably made some inroads. I currently freelance for ITN where there are such things as placements available for either skilled ethnic minority candidates or ‘talent’ schemes such as Generation Next – which was my fortunate route in.  But the fact of the matter is, it’s usually very, very hard to get a foot on the ladder without knowing that special someone (not least in the midst of industry-wide hiring freezes).  I’d argue that those working at Radio 4 today coudl have somehow made a passing reference to this. But with all those toffs running the rest of the country, they clearly couldn’t find the time.

Update. The dependable Roy Greenslade has picked up on this.

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Comments
  1. darryl853 says:

    From my own experience there, the BBC’s very good at fretting about ticking boxes for ethnicity, but forgets that if you come from the White City Estate – whatever colour you are – you’ve less chance of getting into the big place next door than someone whose definition of “estate” is a bit different.

  2. Olly Benson says:

    Hi,

    I used to work for the BBC (I now work for a charity). For the record, I went to a state school and the University of Bradford.

    I agree with much of what you said about elitism in the BBC. I don’t think it’s universal, but I don’t think it can be denied.

    However, I worked on one of the many schemes intended to increase the diversity of employees in the BBC. The most frustrating aspect of the role wasn’t getting people in the BBC to engage with the idea, it was getting youth workers / school teachers to promote the project. One said to me “it’s the BBC, they’ll never let anyone from this school in”. As a result, no-one from that school applied.

    This doesn’t prove that school teachers etc all hold similar elitist ideas, but does give an example that it’s not simply the BBC that needs to change their ways.

    I’d also add that wearing my youth worker hat, asking what school someone is at is a really good way of getting a shy/nervous person to start to engage. I realise that that probably wasn’t their intention, but I’d hate to think the many YPs I’ve dealt with think I’m only interested in that because of my sense of elitism!

    Olly

  3. billcode says:

    That’s a very good point Olly – concerning people thinking they won’t be accepted when in actual fact organisations such as the BBC and ITN do try to increase diversity…but without huge success when it comes to that lovely British issue of ‘class’ instead of ethnic diversity, for instance.

    The issue, after all, is who can afford to do an unpaid placement at the BBC: not everyone when there are bills to be paid.

  4. darryl853 says:

    There’s a very good scheme at the BBC called Step Up – originally aimed at young people from west London, has gradually broadened its focus over the years; a joint project between BBC London and (I think) BBC News to broaden awareness of career opportunities for everyone. I wonder if it’s this that Olly’s talking about.

    I was a mentor on it a couple of years ago and it was a rewarding experience – and through it my mentee got a little bit of part-time work at BBC London – a brilliant foot in the door, although even at 17/18 she found the course hard to juggle with her own paid part-time job.

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