BBC Hiring Row: Diversity Champion Marcus Ryder Reveals Fears Faced by Journalists of Color

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UPDATED: Marcus Ryder has revealed details of his meeting with BBC director general Tim Davie, which took place just prior to a speech delivered by the diversity campaigner on Tuesday.

Calling the meeting “very constructive,” Ryder said the BBC recognizes that there is a problem when it comes to the issue of due impartiality. He added that all broadcasters have problems with retention, with ethnic minorities leaving news organizations. Ryder is meeting Davie again in six months’ time. Action points haven’t yet been finalized, he said.

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Last month, Ryder was at the center of a media storm over the BBC allegedly blocking his appointment to a senior news role. In his speech, the media figure spoke out about journalists of color fearing for their careers.

“Journalists of color are scared — I have spoken to journalists who literally — and I am using the word literally correctly here — literally look over their shoulder when they talk about diversity — on Zoom, at home, because they are so scared. They are scared of losing their jobs. They are scared of being backlisted as a trouble maker,” Ryder said in his speech.

Ryder serves as head of external consultancies at Birmingham City University’s Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, which was set up to look into diversity across the U.K. industry.

He was speaking at an event moderated by Variety international editor Manori Ravindran after he received on Tuesday a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), one of the country’s highest honors, for services to media diversity. The investiture took place at Windsor Castle, where the medal was bestowed to Ryder by Prince William, who also presented footballer Marcus Rashford an MBE on the same day.

Ryder — whose overarching point is that advocating for equality shouldn’t be a matter of impartiality — said journalists of color are scared of a number of different scenarios that could affect their job prospects.

These include being identified as having participated in a Black Lives Matter protest; ‘liking’ a picture of an England soccer player taking the knee during the Euro championships; not deleting their black square in memory of George Floyd on Instagram quickly enough; and ‘liking’ one of Ryder’s own blog posts analyzing the BBC’s or [U.K. media regulator] Ofcom’s publicly available data highlighting the industries failings when it comes to diversity.

“They are worried that doing any of these things will bring their impartiality into question and by extension be used against them when they go for promotion, or worse, be used as ammunition against them in a disciplinary hearing,” Ryder said. “These fears are real.”

Ryder also addressed concerns over his own journalistic impartiality, stressing his impartiality across events like Brexit and the Scottish referendum.

“The news broke that my impartiality was being questioned and whether I could be a senior journalist at the BBC,” Ryder said. “Now I am not going to go into my particular case because the BBC has publicly denied that I was ever blocked. But what I do know to be the case is hundreds of journalists of color fear their careers being blocked, being disciplined by their employer, or even fired for breaching impartiality guidelines, for doing exactly what I have done.”

Ryder explained that what he has done is to champion the need for greater diversity across forums and that fears over impartiality can only be dismissed when broadcasters send out a “very clear message that they believe in media diversity — and do not believe individuals championing media diversity impacts on a journalist’s ability to be impartial any more than championing the right to vote or any of our basic human rights.”

“Championing the need for a more representative, diverse and equitable media is not an impartiality issue,” Ryder added.

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