In our #BrusselsCalling media debate on 13 April 2021, Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, had the “sweet revenge” of quizzing journalists about their insights on diversity in EU media. Having been told as a young girl not to speak up unless asked, Vice-President Jourová adapted this message over time to: Speak up when you have something to say! Mehreen Khan, EU correspondent at the Financial Times, shared her experiences of racism as a Muslim born and educated in the UK. Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Brussels correspondent at The New York Times, who is a Greek national with university education in the UK and journalistic experience in Africa, observed that many people do not realise their level of white privilege. Jitendra Joshi, senior journalist at Agence France-Presse, with postings in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Washington DC, Paris, Brussels and now London, noted a change in society as the current generation speaks up and talks about diversity.

Listen to the people!

Vice-President Jourová explained that the Commission is committed to implementing policies against discrimination and for diversity. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, she said this work is more important than ever because vulnerable and minority groups are particularly affected by the economic and health implications of COVID-19. The EU’s recovery support must therefore target people in need and not increase societal gaps. In this regard, Mehreen Khan argued that it is important to heed people’s individual experiences in order to implement targeted measures. Jitendra Joshi added that if minority and vulnerable groups are not reflected in boards of companies or in governments, this is a substantial risk for bad policymaking.

@Brussels media – We have to talk about racism

Brussels journalists may not understand why the conversation about racism has an impact on their day-to-day job as they mainly cover policy developments. But Mehreen Khan noted that some governments in Europe issue policies and executive orders which are discriminating and are motivated by racism. This makes it crucial for policy-focused journalists to have conversations about racism and understand how those dynamics are influencing policymaking and thus their reporting.

Diverse newsroom – Diverse coverage

All three journalists argued that just as diverse groups should be represented in company boards and in governments, diversity should also be embraced in newsrooms. A journalist’s job is to tell stories from all over the world. If a newsroom represents the countries that it is covering, then this enriches the reporting of a media outlet as a whole.

Racism is not a trend – Let’s all take some responsibility

The reality is that most people aren’t racist in an open and nasty way, Matina Stevis-Gridneff argued. Rather, they might carry learned and institutional racism, without awareness of this and how it influences their behaviour. However, she added, it shouldn’t be up to people such as Mehreen Khan to do the hard work of educating others. “Why is the burden of responsibility on me to help society do better? Why isn’t the burden on everyone? I’m nobody’s good Muslim,” Mehreen Khan agreed.

Diversity in tech regulation

Vice-President Jourová argued that, in advancing its key priority of digitalisation, the Commission must ensure that tech regulation ia addressing the risks of inequality. For example, the inequalities present in society should not be transformed into AI algorithms. Acknowledging that AI is going to transform the world, Jitendra Joshi asked “but on which basis will this technology be implemented? Is it being set up by young, male, white coders?”

This debate only scratched the surface of the complex and emotional topic of diversity. But it’s an important conversation to have and one that we are looking forward to continuing!