Creative Media – for or against discrimination?

I was intrigued to hear Rowan Atkinson’s thoughts about how the creative industries are “inappropriate environments for anti-discrimination legislation”.  His comments came in a letter to Radio 4’s Media Show which had previously reported on Miriam O’Reilly’s victory against the BBC at a tribunal, following her being dropped from presenting the Countryfile programme as a result of her age. (BBC webpage)

Mr Atkinson suggested that “the legal tools she used should never have been available to her”; the tool he referred to is the Equality Act. He went on to say that the producer of any creative product should be allowed the creative freedom and latitude to include or exclude anybody or anything for any reason.

What he suggests is that an entire industry should be immune from the equalities legislation, which despite sometimes getting things wrong, has been an essential part of the development of our modern society and a driver of social policy. I have heard many a discussion about how writers, journalists, film and documentary makers’ feel that their freedom of speech is attacked by both equality and human rights legislation. Can this be so?

I can recall those days not so long ago when racist and sexist humour pervaded clubs and stages across the country. “An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman walked into a bar….” Surely, Mr Atkinson, we have moved on from that – your comedy certain has. I hope that as a society  we are more sophisticated and intelligent.

I offer a counter proposal. Instead of relaxing the laws impacting on the media, perhaps they ought to be strengthened. The media, particularly newspapers and television are in a very powerful position to influence the way people think and act. If we are truly going to challenge discriminatory attitudes and behaviours we have to begin with what the general public receive as their daily information.

Certainly much of what can be read in the press in fact incites prejudice, even if this is not its main purpose. A quick glimpse through the many of the daily newspapers and you will be able to find many articles which perpetuate negative stereotypes and images. Editors need to take responsibility for what they print, whilst also taking time to explore the reactions their words can cause. What makes stereotyping so pernicious is how it feeds general ignorance and prejudice across the country.

Perhaps for them and other in the media industry, the major challenge here is how to continue to work creatively whilst being a positive role model to readers, viewers and audiences regarding equalities.

I believe that the tribunal was right in finding against the BBC, a public institution that should know better; there is no place for discriminatory practice anywhere in our society, even the creative media – sorry Mr Atkinson.

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in age equality, beyond diversity, Bullying & Harassment, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, Equality Act, human rights, inequality, Prejudice, Sexism, Uncategorized, workplace bullying and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Creative Media – for or against discrimination?

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  2. Annabel says:

    Fascinating. It seems that the people who benefited most from things pre equality (eg successful white men of a certain age) feel there is no need for all this legislation. They would think that wouldn’t they?

    If the creative arts were to be immune from all equality legislation we would live in a media world where all women had big tits (preferably on public view) , all people were white, all women were homemakers (with an unnatural interest in how white their laundry could be), everyone was heterosexual. Don’t laugh. That was the TV and newspaper world I grew up in.

    It wasn’t changed because the media moguls wanted to, but because they had to.

    The law was one important element in that change. Other elements were the rising spending power (and thus the need to target advertising) of women and them minority groups, often assisted by equality legislation!

    Whilst I respect Rowan Atkinson’s anti censorship stand in relation to the Race and Religious Hatred bill, and share some of his concerns about restricting what can be said, having a wide range of ‘faces’ and ‘voices’ is not something the media naturally gravitate towards and I can’t see any other realistic way of getting older women, minority faces into the media as anything other than victims and criminals.

    Loathing interference, but not seeing much practical alternative. Ideas?

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