It’s a white man’s world in the lobby

by Atul Hatwal

Since 1884 the cosy club of the lobby has shaped political journalism in Britain. With privileged access to MPs in the lobby outside the Commons’ chamber and a remit to report politicians’ views on “lobby terms,” (e.g. without naming the source), their judgement on what merits reporting and how it is written, frames the political debate.

However, for such an influential institution, relatively little is known about its members. For most other parts of Britain’s governing elite, such as MPs or the judiciary, there is a basic level of transparency. The gender balance and proportion from minority communities are a matter of public knowledge and debate.

But not with the lobby.

Uncut has analysed the membership of this august body to see how it measures up. The results paint a depressingly familiar picture.

In all, there are 155 accredited members of the lobby. Out of this total, 33 or 21% are women and just 7 or 5% come from minority communities.

For minorities, the reality is a little worse than even the raw numbers suggest. Only 5 of the 7  lobby journalists are employed by the types of news organisation to which aspirants will routinely apply in the hope of one day receiving the honour of a lobby pass.

Take a bow Rajeev Syal, the Guardian and Observer’s Whitehall correspondent, Samana Haq, ITN’s Westminster news editor, John Piennar, 5 Live’s chief political correspondent, Kiran Stacey political correspondent of the FT and Anne Alexander, Daybreak’s politics producer. You are the lucky ones.

Team diversity is completed by Adel Darwish, a longtime lobby hand now plying his trade for Middle East News, and Ahmed Versi who edits and publishes the Muslim News.

If the lobby looked like the country there would be over double the number of women journalists and three times as many from minority communities.

This institution has the dubious distinction of being about as representative than the House of Commons on which it reports where 23% of the MPs are women and 4% are from an ethnic minority.

The situation remains largely the same when looking at the parliamentary press gallery.

Gallery journalists only have access to the press gallery in the Commons and Lords and traditionally have had a slightly different remit to the lobby.  Their focus is more on reporting proceedings rather than securing exclusives by talking to MPs. Quentin Letts neatly described the difference in a submission to Leveson, although for many journalists, in practice, the distinction between lobby and gallery is increasingly blurred.

There are 408 journalists who have parliamentary passes that give access to the gallery (including the lobby contingent) with 108 or 26% women and 15 or 4% from minority communities.

Two problems flow from the uniformity of Britain’s political journalists.

First, their background will inform what they feel is important and should be reported. The narrower the background, the narrower the reporting.

It is certainly not the case that a journalist’s news values will be wholly determined by race or gender. We all have free choice, distinct beliefs, and someone’s class and the culture of their work place both have a major influence on how they work.

But, being a woman or from an ethnic minority is clearly different to being a white man and will engender some different priorities. The homogeneity of the pool of parliamentary journalists means these will inevitably be under-represented in the reporting of our political news.

Second, Uncut’s analysis suggests that there is a problem with equalities in our media organisations. No doubt all will have equalities policies and claim they are fully committed to their implementation. But, out of the hundreds of political journalists employed by the different organisations, are only 5 from minority communities good enough to be in the lobby? Really?

And are female political journalists under-represented by over half in the lobby because they are either not good enough or don’t want to work at the top of their profession?

It’s easy to explain away individual hiring decisions but when looking at the choices made across hundreds of appointments by dozens of different employers, the pattern is inescapable.

Journalism is no different to law or politics in suffering from such systematic under-representation of women and minorities. But while action is being taken in these areas, or is at least being debated, for the lobby, it is not even an issue for public discussion.

During the debate on press regulation, one of the most prominent arguments made by members of the press in their opposition to statutory regulation was that the media have a unique role in safeguarding our democracy. There is a lot of truth in this. Which makes it all the more important that the people who define the news we receive are more representative of the country that they serve.

Note: this article was changed 1230 20/12 to update the nos of lobby correspondents from minority backgrounds from 5 to 7

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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14 Responses to “It’s a white man’s world in the lobby”

  1. keith says:

    its not just the lobby, although i have always felt this was a brown nose job for journalists, who repeat lies and kit flying stories politicians want to feed the public and isn’t it so depressing when you see puffed up peacocks like nick Robinson coming on the T.V and in a self important way telling you he knows something you don’t but wont say who told him as its his secret, pathetic the lobby should be done away with we pay politicians to tell us what they think not hide behind tame reporters, but back to minority representation, what about the BBC who many on the trust or from minorities or are in top management positions they pay lip service by just employing a few non white faces to appear reading the news, its a disgrace all round

  2. keith says:

    apologise for the spelling errors at the end but it just annoys me about the upper echelons of the BBC
    p. it should read
    what about the BBC how many on the trust are from minorities or in top management positions

  3. John Stevens says:

    This article is an interesting read, however does not take into account certain things.

    Experience of the journalists for example, as the author says, “to which aspirants will routinely apply in the hope of one day receiving the honour.” This is a job to which people work for years and years to aspire to.

    The current make-up of this group is entirely reflective, of succesfull 50+ age people, whose demographics fully justify the proportions of “creeds, colours and races.”

    This is the same as saying “all senior doctors are men,” well yes, they are, because 30 years ago when they were training, women were not especially encouraged to be a doctor, rather a nurse.

    Luckily times are changing however, but, forcing stereotypical quotas on groups of people is not libertarian or democratic.

    As new generations grow up they will naturally replace and groups such as this will naturally become balanced.

    Forcing change on people for changes sake is a good way of alienating, discrediting and seriously annoying people.

    Want to make a difference…teach school children that interviewing politicians is a positive important job, and give them the skills to enable them to do it.

  4. Ian Smith says:

    And your point is that majority rule works in Zimbabwe but not here?

    In any case there are no hournalists in the lobby. Just obedient hacks rewriting government propaganda. journalism was about investigation. Until your mate Brian Leveson decided we needed a European style poodle press.

    Most newspapers are losing money and circulation. No one believes the Pravda-tyle BBC. You can fill the lobby with minorities if you like, you can ban white people from reporting anything. but you will jut be talking to yourselves. The quiet ,disregarded majority won’t be listening.

  5. So for comparison, what’s the racial make up of the UK as a whole? We need to compare to see if the racial makeup of the Lobby is a fair representation of the rest of the population.

    Looking at the 2011 census (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_groups_in_the_United_Kingdom), it says that 87% of the UK is white. That means that 13% of the UK is non-white.

    Therefore I have to agree with you and say that the Lobby is not a fair representation of the UK population. You need to find one more non-white person to put into the Lobby to make the percentages a bit more representative.

    But that you only need one person to change the percentages in the Lobby shows how stupid your argument is. Whenever there is a small group you will always find it does not match the rest of the population in it’s makeup, be it gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, or religion.

  6. Rob74 says:

    92.1% of the UK population are described as white. You are complaining that only 5% of the members of the lobby are not white, which means that as a reflection of the UK population the lobby membership is only behind the curve by 2.9%. You can work out for yourself how many more lobby members are needed to bring that figure into line with the UK population.

    Taking the above into account can you please explain whether your argument is that non whites should be over-represented, or that you would like a few more members?

    I am explicitly using white and non white has you have used the same in your title.

  7. Les Abbey says:

    It would also be interesting to know how many had private schooling. It does bring up, at least my mind that some form of positive discrimination is needed across a whole range of professions.

  8. Rob74 says:

    If you describe discrimination to anybody sentient they will take away a negative view of the actions of the discriminator. To discriminate is unfair to anybody who believes in meritocracy for instance.

    I enjoyed time living with an African American in the Middle East. He spoke at length on many occasions about why he joined the US military, and how it was the only meritocratic employer in the US. I know his opinions to be true because I worked for an organisation that was crowded by people from the same ethnic group in managerial roles. They had also been previously employed by the US military and were proven managers of people.

    Les Abbey uses a phrase that has become all too common in the politics of the left. Positive discrimination. Either you are discriminating, or you are not. You cannot claim discrimination is positive in reference to one group while decrying it’s use against another. You either deplore discrimination or you do not.

    I would suggest that those who use it has an argument for either more ethnicity, or less, are painting with exactly the same brush.

    Although our figures differ to a small degree. Mine may be a year or two outdated. We both have a valid point. Has a reflection of the population, the ethnicity of the lobby members is not in any great way disproportionate to the UK average. If you are suggesting that figure is too low, and I presume you have taken the time to check the figures. Then I must assume that you are calling for minority groups to be over represented.

    If you believe that minority groups should be over represented, why title your article so provocatively? Why not argue honestly for over representation?

  9. Aron Lipschitz says:

    Just once. ONCE! It would be refreshing to read an article by an “Efnik” who wasn’t whinging that the world is unfair because he or she wasn’t being given special privileges.

  10. Les Abbey says:

    In reply to Rob74

    I was thinking more in terms of the over representation of ex-public schoolboys in both politics, the media and the professions. This after some improvement in the sixties and seventies seems to have reverted to as it was before.

    Now some may say it was the death of grammar schools that has caused the direction to change, and this may well be so although I suspect bringing them back isn’t the answer in today’s world.

    Therefore I do think that some type of positive discrimination is needed, possibly starting with the Russel Group university recruitment. I think that politics, the media and the law professions are places where in particular it is bad for society to have such imbalance.

    So Rob, it’s always worth reading what people write rather than what you think they are writing. In this case surely it’s the majority that are being discriminated against, rather than a minority. Unless of course you know that the majority can afford to send their kids to Eton and are just being willful in not spending their money in this way.

  11. Madasafish says:

    Man does not require competence or thruthfulness in journalism but only the right skin colour.

    If this was apartheid Sout Africa you would call that racism.

  12. Adam West says:

    “This institution has the dubious distinction of being about as representative than the House of Commons on which it reports where 23% of the MPs are women and 4% are from an ethnic minority.”

    I do not care what race, colour, religion or gender a lobby journalist is just that they do a good job.(they don’t) Likewise for MPs, the Police, Fire brigades, doctors and nurses, teachers and the like.

    Fussing over whether or not a particular body accurately reflects the makeup of the wider population is a distraction. It would be cargo cult thinking to believe that making the lobby accurately reflect the population would make it a better lobby. It won’t. The lobby will still be craven to the MPs in return for access.

  13. somebody says:

    The ‘white people are baaad’ thing doesn’t acknowledge the class structure, white people were enslaved and exploited by other white people yeah, same as in black, brown or whatever world. This blame everything on white people meme ain’t gonna fly. I’m in Australia, where a certain segment of the white population criminalised another segment of the white population for simply not being part of an elite, and then deported them as slave labor, how are those unfortunate white people responsible for what elites do? All races have their elites who use and exploit those less powerful.

  14. Kevin T says:

    Somebody is correct. How much of the lobby is white working class (genunite white working class, not putting on a comedy northerner accent like Kevin Maguire)? The left is so desperate to scream racism it never occurs to them to look for other reasons minorities might be shut out, for example that certain professions are Oxbridge boys clubs which only the well off and well educated can get into. Poor whites are just as excluded but in the head of your average diversity-obsesed leftie that doesn’t matter because the rich whites make up for them (!)

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