Community Media Discussion – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Practices

This week in our Community Media Discussion, we’ll be chatting about how community media puts into practice principles of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. We’ll be discussing what the Equalities Act means in practice for community media makers, and how we can take practical steps to address discrimination in the way we support people to take part in community media, and the media that we make and share itself. Inclusion isn’t just achieved by ticking boxes and filling in forms, we have to make practical changes to the way that we think and work with people from different backgrounds and with different social experiences. In this week’s discussion, we’ll be learning from one another as we seek to build a more inclusive media based on achaivable social justice principles.

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Every community and civic society group working with the public, either directly or indirectly, have a duty to demonstrate that they are acting in accordance with the most relevant equality, diversity and inclusivity principles (EDI). Equalities principles are not just theoretical, but have to be accounted for in practice, and against practical criteria. For community media groups and projects, this means understanding how the EDI framework operates, what its aims are, and how variations in practice can be accommodated while demonstrating consistency in regard to the underlying principles.

The Equalities and Human Right Commission has responsibility for developing the framework of equalities principles, and giving guidance about how these principles are understood and applied, based on the latest interpretation of the courts and other statutory agencies. Equality and inclusion are demonstrated by outcome and not just intent. We can have the best of intentions, but if the outcome of our practices remains biased against any particular groups of people, then we are not making a difference. EDI thinking therefore requires us to look at all of our assumptions, and to seek ways to ensure that we see a measurable and distinct difference in outcome.

Equalities, diversity and inclusivity is typically understood in regard to employment practices, and the rights and protections that we have in as both employers and employees. They are also applicable in the way that we provide, use and access services, ensuring that as many people as possible can engage economically and not be put off by unnecessary and unreasonable barriers. The EDI principles also apply to volunteering and mutual engagement groups in the same way. They also apply to large and small organisations alike.

The EHRC guides to equalities and inclusion ask organisations to think about what barriers exist that narrows the possibility of inclusion, and gives a framework that helps to define where the potential points of discrimination may exist. An EDI policy for community media would ask what can be done to minimise and remove those barriers, and would consider if the services that we offer as community media makers is accessible to as many people as possible? Are we doing things on the basis of our own assumptions, or are we looking objectively at the practical problems that exist for many people to participate in making community media? Are we able to make reasonable adjustments to our systems and resources so there are no unnecessary barriers to access for people who do would otherwise have to overcome limitations in order to take part?

Sometimes barriers are a necessary part of the process of community engagement, and some restrictions can be justified. The recuring phrase is that we make ‘reasonable adjustments’. For example, many radio stations cater for communities that have limited access to information and engagement because there are language distinctions that define their target community. It may be permissible, then, for community radio stations, for example, to discriminate on the basis of language, and because they are serving a need within a defined language-community in a specific place. A Punjabi or Gujarati focussed radio station can’t be expected to deliver high levels of English only programming because this would not be serving the intended audience. Some discrimination is allowable, therefore, given the social purpose of serving a specific community, meaning that a community radio station can recruit presenters who are fluent with a specific language. However, the radio station could not discriminate against English speakers from volunteering for the station more generally, and therefore excluding volunteers based on their language skills. They would, however, have to make reasonable adjustments to support language interpretation between community volunteers.

EDI works both ways in principle, though the lessons from practice might raise practical concerns about operational effectiveness when working in a specific cultural context or community setting. This is where the protected characteristics are essential in understanding how an EDI policy works in practice, bearing in mind that people with certain social characteristics are protected against discrimination on the basis of : age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership (in employment only), pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. For example, a religious group would be acting in a discriminatory manner if they prevented an atheist from volunteering on the basis that their beliefs are held to be incompatible with the practices of the religious group. It can be made clear to all volunteers, regardless of their faith or beliefs, that the aim of the group is to promote certain religious aims, and as long as volunteers are happy with that, then they can expect to be able to take part in those activities.

So, working out how the principles of EDI work in practice is a lot more complicated than it seems, and there are many opportunities for misunderstanding, grounded on inherited assumptions, and which may appear to conflict with the public purpose and stated aims of an organisation or group. Three dynamics at play are worth looking at in more detail:

  • Policies without action – just having the paperwork in place is not viable.
  • Biased recruitment – are we operating an echo chamber?
  • Residual discrimination – do assumptions made in the past being carried on into the future?

When anticipated in relation to community media, the EDI approach has to be carefully thought through, not just to ensure that we’ve got the paperwork in order, but to ensure that we are meeting clear and relevant social justice outcomes.  The social justice case for community media is based on the belief that everyone should have a right to equal access to the means of communication, and the training and development that is involved in becoming a proficient community media maker. This should be based solely on merit, and should not be defined by other factors, such as a person’s race, religion, disability, and so on.

In addition, everyone should have the right to be free of any direct or indirect discrimination and harassment or bullying. How these are achieved can be through multiple practices, though those with experience of aiming to support these rights and freedoms, will tell you that they are often easy to identify in theory, but much more difficult to achieve in practice. This is where a developmental approach to EDI has to be considered, and the capacity for inclusion has to be fostered and grown.

For community media practitioners, there are many forms of inclusive engagement that work, and many that don’t work. How do we evaluate the differences in intent and practice that our activities represent? How, as community media makers, might we develop a set of practices that challenge barriers to inclusion? How do we account for the effectiveness of our practice of inclusion? How do we let other people know about how and why our inclusion models work?

A thriving democracy can only be realised if there is a sense of pluralism and democracy in the way we communicate and exchange information about the different parts of our communities. A thriving democracy needs to promote a wide range of voices that can take part in all forms of public discussion and decision-making. Removing barriers to access, and inspiring people who have been overlooked and excluded from this process, is the work of community media. Discussing our EDI practices, then, is essential for the promotion of communications justice, which services the purpose of greater social justice and inclusion overall.

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