European Union flags
Credit: European Union flags

The NCTJ released their annual report on Diversity within Journalism last week and, beyond the obvious diversity issues in our industry, one throw-away comment caught my eye. According to the report, “a lower proportion [of working journalists] from the EU than for all UK workers” could “perhaps” be explained by “English language barriers”. 

Now, as a French journalist working in the UK, I know that language is the main tool for journalists to tell their stories. Perfect command of the language is required to properly report on issues. Reducing this problem of access to the industry to language barriers. however, is both misguided and a symptom of the already well-known  broader diversity problem in the media.  

While the issues faced by EU citizens are varied, partly due to the fact we are not a homogeneous group, some of the lived experiences I collected depict a clear trend. 

Language barriers

Before going any further, however, one thing needs to be made clear: EU citizens have an excellent command of English. The 2021 EF report shows that most European countries are performing at the highest levels of English proficiency. It may be our second - or third - language, but EU journalists prove to be as good a group of writers and reporters as British ones. 

Daniella Theis, a German-born journalist now a community reporter at the Greenock Telegraph in Scotland, feels frustrated by the assumptions made about the English-language skills of EU citizens working in the media. “For many, the barrier doesn’t exist. My English isn’t perfect all of the time, but neither is the English of people who are from here,” she says.

Two things we can’t hide though, are our accents and our names. Whether in job interviews or in the field, we can’t hide that we’re not from here when we speak or when people struggle to pronounce our names. An article from BBC Future in 2018 highlighted the link made between intelligence and trust based on the accent of their interlocutor. The lack of representation of EU citizens in the British media isn’t going to help change this.

Qualifications, experience, skills: dismissed

Additionally, media organisations operate gatekeeping strategies which other minorities in the media will recognise: the lack of recognition of our education. When applying for placements, schemes or jobs preference is given, as demonstrated by the NCTJ Diversity report, to those with the highest level of education, or perhaps to be more accurate more highly-selective, overly upper-class (British) education.

Excellent candidates and journalists are being set aside because their, sometimes prestigious, university isn’t known in the UK. Those in charge of recruitment don’t understand their value and don’t bother to do even a small amount of independent research to find out more - and therefore dismiss these candidates, almost on a technicality. 

Some EU citizens decide to navigate around this problem and save up to study for a British degree. Iris Pase, an Italian journalist living in Britain, moved to the UK with a Bachelor's degree in History and Philosophy and decided to take on a Masters at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow to specialise in journalism. She explains: “I started freelancing before I started my Masters but as soon as I put Strathclyde on my CV, the number of commissions I won tripled.Local education makes a huge difference.”

Lack of safety net limits options

A British degree isn’t always enough to make a difference, however. Monika Metodieva, a journalism graduate originally from Bulgaria, is now working in PR. She says she struggled to get a job in the industry although she was the editor of her university newspaper, was awarded a distinction for her Masters, and had been freelancing as a journalist back in Romania. She describes the difficulty to leverage that wealth of experience into a job as an Eastern European graduate.

“No one ever told me I was different but I was one of the last people from my course still looking for a job,” she says. “I was studying and working part-time to support myself so I didn’t attend networking events like most of the students. Journalism is really about who you know, for jobs or your sources. I feel I missed out.” 

The lack of financial security and safety net for EU immigrants is another factor, especially if they also come from a lower socioeconomic background. It means that choices are made based on what seems to be the safest option. For me, it meant getting an industry-standard qualification on top of a job in communications as a distance learner. It meant I could keep earning but also made it harder to network, get mentoring or find opportunities for placements. Stability of income is also the priority for Pase who works as a social media manager: “Money is a big worry for me. I find it easier to be a freelancer than to try and become a news reporter,” she tells me.

An asset not a liability

Finally, as is the case for the inclusion of all minority groups in the newsroom, understanding that the diverse skills and views  brought by EU immigrants are an asset rather than a liability is a crucial starting point. Not only is it the right thing to do both in terms of reducing prejudice in society and more effectively reporting, it has commercial and editorial value too.

By supporting the representation of EU citizens in the newsroom, the media has a lot to gain: New perspectives, multilingual skills which in turn can improve access to foreign or harder-to-reach sources, innovative ways of thinking, higher audience engagement, and increased trust from the EU community in the UK.

Ultimately, the lack of representation of EU citizens in journalism needs to be acknowledged and taken seriously by the media. We have a duty to represent the breadth of immigrant views - both of audiences and journalists, and not treat their perspectives as foreign affairs. 

Camille Dupont is a French NCTJ-trained journalist working with PressPad on improving diversity and inclusion in the media.

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