Prominent journalists working for the British Broadcasting Corporation are very different from their audience, Gary James Merrill, of University of Roehampton, writes. He investigated the social constitution of 66 senior BBC journalists and compared them to national data. Merrill also included samples of senior Conservative and Labour politicians in the comparison.
The journalists have more in common with Conservative politicians than Labour politicians or the general public, the author discovered. Both the journalists and Conservatives are predominately older, white British men with exclusive education and middle-class backgrounds.
Interestingly, the BBC journalists’ educational backgrounds seem to be even more exclusive than those of Conservative ministers: 67 per cent of them went to a private secondary school, compared to 26 per cent of Conservative and 13 per cent of Labour politicians in the sample. Only 7 per cent of the British public has had the same privilege. Both BBC and Conservative samples included disproportionately many graduates from the elite Oxford and Cambridge universities: 45 and 44 per cent, respectively. Even 13 per cent of Labour politicians have this background, compared to less than 1 per cent of the British population.
Further comparisons suggest these BBC journalists come from more affluent families than most of the public, they have spent most of their lives in well-off regions of the country, and many enjoy salaries far higher than average Britons.
The implications of these skewed demographics among leading BBC journalists are debatable, Merrill admits. It is, however, possible that these divergent backgrounds represent a disconnect between senior BBC journalists and the British public, leaving the journalists “unable to thoroughly represent the interests of the nation in their work”, the author concludes.
The article “Representing the Nation” was published by the journal Journalism Practice. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).
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Edited on 17.12.2019: Numerous stylistic changes were made throughout the text in order to have it better reflect the original work. For example, the title of this summary originally referred to “elite” journalists. To avoid link decay, the page’s URL has not been altered. Two factual errors were also amended: the proportion of British citizens educated at a private secondary school was corrected from 8 to 7 per cent, and the abbreviation “BCC” was corrected to BBC.