BBC is dominated by 'posh English white blokes', says C4 editor

Channel 4’s editor at large accuses the BBC of being dominated by ‘posh, southern, English white blokes’ and says people who work there are ‘vain, self-obsessed and elitist’

  • C4 editor-at-large Dorothy Byrne says BBC is ‘a wing of the establishment’
  • She says ‘a lot of people’ who work for the BBC ‘think they’re really superior’
  • Took part in a debate on Radio 4 with BBC broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby

The BBC is ‘absolutely dominated by posh southern English white blokes’ and remains ‘a wing of the establishment’, the Channel 4 editor-at-large said today.

Dorothy Byrne told a Radio 4 debate that she had ‘found a lot of people who work for the BBC to be vain, self-obsessed, elitist – they think they’re really superior’.

The 69-year-old Scot, who was born in Paisley, said BBC journalists ‘see themselves as sitting impartially sitting in the middle, but they define what the middle is’.

Ms Byrne, who is former chair of the Ethical Journalism Network and C4’s ex-head of news and current affairs, also said the BBC ‘represents some of our worst features’.

She was debating the motion that ‘the BBC’s flaws are a price worth paying’ with BBC and ITV broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby during the show Across the Red Line.

Dorothy Byrne (left) told a BBC Radio 4 debate today with Jonathan Dimbleby (right) that she had ‘found a lot of people who work for the BBC to be vain, self-obsessed, elitist’

Ms Byrne, who is president-elect of Murray Edwards College at Cambridge, said: ‘I think the BBC is a great institution and actually this country should be proud of it. 

‘And I certainly trust it more than I trust the right-wing politicians who attack it. But as well as representing the best of the UK, it represents some of our worst features.

Threat to journalists who upset ministers 

Journalists could be hit with lengthy prison sentences if their stories upset the Government under ‘sweeping reforms’ to the Official Secrets Act, the newspaper industry warned today.

Proposals for legislation to ‘counter state threats’ risk criminalising public interest journalism, critics said.

There are concerns that reporters could be branded spies if, for example, they handle leaked documents.

The proposals could also expose whistleblowers to ‘harsh new penalties’, a newspaper industry body said.

A Home Office consultation, closing today, is seeking to reform the 1989 act to account for changes in the modern age. It could increase the maximum two-year sentence for ‘unauthorised disclosure’.

The Law Commission recommended a public interest defence, which would protect journalists, should be included.

But the Home Office rejected this, saying it would ‘undermine our efforts to prevent damaging unauthorised disclosures, which would not be in the public interest’. 

The News Media Association, which speaks for UK media organisations, warned the plans could ‘open the floodgates’ to the media and its sources being prosecuted ‘despite acting in the public interest’.

‘I’ve never worked for the BBC, but have worked for 40 years for ITV and Channel 4, and in that time I have to say I have found a lot of people who work for the BBC to be vain, self-obsessed, elitist, they think they’re really superior.

‘The institution has been absolutely dominated by posh southern English white blokes, and I know Jonathan Dimbleby’s one, although you didn’t actually go to Oxbridge, I’ll say that for you.

‘And although right-wing politicians claim the BBC is left-wing, it isn’t. I actually think it’s a wing of the establishment. I think the BBC journalists see themselves as sitting impartially sitting in the middle, but they define what the middle is.’

Ms Byrne, who studied at Manchester and Sheffield universities, added: ‘I know the BBC is trying to improve itself. I believe it probably means to, although I suspect there’s some tokenism going on. 

‘But it has to become more diverse and representative to convince us, the wider population, that it really represents the whole of Britain and not just the elitists who work for it.’

Mr Dimbleby, 76, was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and attended  Charterhouse, the Royal Agricultural College and University College London.

The son of Richard Dimbleby and brother of David Dimbleby, he presents current affairs and political programmes for the BBC and ITV, and is a historian.

He told the show today: ‘I don’t quite recognise Dorothy’s description. 

‘Having spent a large part of my broadcasting television life at ITV, I’ve come across people – to use her terms – who are vain, self-obsessed, feel themselves superior and some of them from posh backgrounds.

‘I slightly resent the term ‘posh’. You can tell from my voice what it is, I am English, I come from southern England, and there are a great many people who are English, from southern England.’

However, he added: ‘I agree on the question of diversity. And the BBC strongly agrees with that as well. The BBC in diversity terms is certainly comparable and much better than many other organisations.

Ms Byrne said BBC journalists ‘see themselves as sitting impartially sitting in the middle, but they define what the middle is’. Pictured: BBC Broadcasting House at Portland Place in London

‘I don’t think it is a wing of the establishment. I think that’s a slightly simplistic view. The BBC seeks to be fair, it seeks to be impartial, it seeks to meet the needs of very diverse audience. It can’t meet all those needs – it’s role is to meet some of the needs of all the people all the time.

‘I’m far from being uncritical of the BBC, incidentally, but I think it does it pretty well, and I think it is an out of date description of it to be part of the establishment.

‘Yes, it gets thing wrong, yes it is probably too cautious from time to time for my own taste, but we have to be very careful – I would say – not to conflict our own views on an institution which is required to meet a much broader audience than either Dorothy or I represent.’

In February, the BBC announced a new diversity directive which will require 95 per cent of staff to complete ‘unconscious bias’ training and which aims for 80 per cent to declare their social class.

The corporation is also aiming for 50 per cent of LGBT employees to be ‘out’ at work, based on the proportion of people identifying as gay or transgender who state in an annual staff survey that they have revealed their sexuality to their manager.

Miranda Wayland (left) was appointed as the BBC’s head of creative diversity in February 2020, and she reports to June Sarpong (right), the BBC’s first ever director of creative diversity

Boss Tim Davie said last September during his introductory speech that the BBC’s workforce would in the next three to five years become 50 per cent women, at least 20 per cent Black, Asian and minority ethnic, and at least 12 per cent disabled.

In February 2020, Miranda Wayland was appointed as the BBC’s head of creative diversity, which the corporation said was a key move in increasing on-air diversity.

Her role involves championing its importance in the creative community, ‘with a specific focus on production, content and suppliers’.

She reports to former TV presenter June Sarpong, the BBC’s first ever director of creative diversity, and her appointment preceded a commitment last summer to spend £100million of its content budget on diverse programming over three years.

MailOnline has contacted the BBC today for comment about Ms Byrne’s claims. 

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