Artillery Row

Beeb better

Against state-funded acti-journalism

What on earth is going on at the BBC? That’s the question I asked myself last week, after reading a truly baffling Newsbeat article entitled, “Racism makes it harder for me to find a place to rent”. Written by Maia Davies, the piece exemplifies the strange modern reality of the corporation, which has thrown away a world-leading legacy of excellence for insipid, soul-crushing mediocrity.

Maia’s piece regales the tragic tales of various minority renters, who claim to have been cruelly discriminated against by their landlords. We first hear the story of “Zara”, who says that she received an email from a prospective landlord accusing her of using a fake profile photograph on the rental site Spareroom:

“Your picture was fake,” he said in an email. He said her photo showed “blonde hair and white skin”. “Actually you are Indian, with black hair and brown skin,” he wrote.

The mere mention of skin colour prompted Zara to complain, stating that she would never have imagined her race would be a “barrier”. Yet the landlord did not say her race was a problem — he claimed that she had used the wrong picture. Zara says that she did not — but how can we trust her account of events? Spareroom investigated the posting, and it appears to have found no evidence that discrimination had taken place as they allowed the landlord to keep his profile. There is no mention of the BBC following up with Spareroom to investigate her story.

So far, so innocuous. Next, we hear the case of Paris Williams. She claims to have been searching for a flat in London for over a year, but has been unable to find “a place to sleep” because of racist questioning from landlords:

It’s common, speaking to landlords and “oh, we’ve had issues with black people”. I’ve even had landlords say to me, “do you smoke weed?” and I’m like, “no”. “Well, every black tenant I’ve had smokes weed, so you must smoke weed.”

Seeing as Paris has kindly provided a selfie for the article’s leading image, it’s possible for us to get a little more insight into the sort of person that she might be. Miss Williams, a Goldsmiths graduate, has flitted between various third sector jobs. Her LinkedIn banner is a “Black Lives Matter” graphic. She was head of her Afro-Caribbean society at university. She worked on campaigns for “The Black Curriculum”. 

The BBC omitted that the tenants in question are already supported by the law

Racial discrimination undoubtedly does occur in the private rental sector, and it is probably made worse by the bottlenecked supply in London that gives landlords a great deal of power over choosing tenants. But Miss Williams is not a casual observer. She has a vested interest in identifying racism — and, if the comments she has passed on to the BBC are indeed correct, she has no legitimate reason to shy away from bringing legal action. After all, she worked for Barnet Council last year. If they had enough resources to hire her to “lead engagement with racialised people”, surely they could help her deal with her racist would-be landlords? 

Perhaps it’s unfair to focus on individuals. These cases nonetheless raise the question, why on earth is the BBC trying to build an argument based around the testimony of random 20-somethings with unfounded suspicions of discrimination? The one attempt to provide some kind of broader context comes from a self-reported survey (hardly the most rigorous form of data-collection) that claims that 14 per cent of black respondents and 10 per cent of Asian respondents believe they have been discriminated against. No data is given for white respondents, making the figures useless. Less than 15 per cent of “yes” responses is hardly cause for a moral panic. 

Strangely enough the BBC decided to omit the fact that if the cases they have reported on are indeed true, the tenants in question are already supported by the law. If only Maia had gently reminded these young ladies that, under the 2010 Equality Act, they can very easily bring a case against their landlord for unlawful discrimination. Then again, that wouldn’t make for a particularly convincing story on the systemic racism ravaging Britain. 

Maia leans instead on the “expertise” of various charitable groups. According to Shelter, the rental industry is unregulated, which is causing racism. The CEO of Shelter then lobbies for the “Right to Rent” bill to help address the supposed problem. The Race Equality Foundation (funded by the Conservative government, by-the-by) tells Maia that “budget cuts have emaciated services responsible for tackling discrimination, such as local authorities and the Equality and Human Rights Commission”. Frankly, the groups should pay young Maia for the piece of copywriting she has inadvertently done for them. 

Young hires see no difference between actual reporting and activism

The BBC’s website is littered with articles that seem to be the products of lost bets on how many journalistic clichés a writer can squeeze into one essay. Such pieces are representative of a broader trend in the news industry towards sloppy, politically motivated acti-journalism. In the search of diversification, meritocratic-based hiring practices are degraded. The values that are attractive to HR departments are not the sort of traits that align with the production of impressive journalism. Moreover, young journalists, who might well be talented, are not being steered into the right direction. It is irresponsible behaviour from their bosses.

The “stupid Right” is no better, as anyone who’s had the misfortune to watch TalkTV’s “That Was The Woke That Was” will tell you. The hiring practices within ostensibly right-leaning newsrooms suffer from the same problems. Indeed, the obsession with presenting a sterile, safe, Equality-Act-compliant image prompts erstwhile anti-snowflake producers to obsess over the racial diversity of presenters and contributors. Legartum, an early donor to GB News, made this priority explicit: “GB News’ successes should be celebrated by anyone who favours diversity, tolerance and respect”. 

The BBC World News service is more worthwhile and informative than the output of every other legacy broadcasting service combined. My favourite documentary was made by Auntie back in the 90s — and, at risk of prematurely ageing myself a few decades, I treasure Radio 4’s “In Our Time” series. The issue is not necessarily ideological.

Rather, the failure to produce adequate journalism that bothers to provide a cursory questioning of accepted narratives is engendered by the pathological aversion to appearing elitist from seniors in the industry. I’m not sure it’s correct to call what Newsbeat does “activism-as-journalism”; indeed, I’m increasingly convinced that young hires have no conception of the difference between actual reporting and the reworking of lobbyist press releases. One could also mention the new “Flip the Script” series, where BBC journalists talk with “celebrities” about the issues of the day. Do you want to hear BBC Weather’s Tomasz Schafernaker talk with drag queen “Cheryl Hole” about climate change? No? Well, the Beeb has enough disrespect for younger viewers to see this as the only means of getting their attention.

As long as Britpopper-backed affirmative action continues, the British taxpayer can expect to continue funding the work of incurious acti-journalism.

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