‘Why I believe the media is elitist’

Guilty: “Just under 80% of top editors were educated at private or grammar schools.”
by Jon Snow

He is an award-winning Channel 4 News journalist and presenter who has travelled the world to cover news from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela, to Barack Obama's inauguration and the earthquake in Haiti.

Our unprecedented connectivity — life on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more -- has failed to combat modern society’s widening disconnection, argues one of Britain’s leading journalists.

On April 20th this year, I was involved with Bill Gates in judging a schools debating competition in London.

It was the final of a countrywide championship organised by the charity – Debate Mate. This is an organisation which does fantastic work democratising that skill so often associated with the elite – public speaking.

I was there to judge the best floor speech. I had little difficulty in deciding – the winner was Firdows Kedir, a remarkably poised hijab-wearing 12-year-old from West London. She was confident and used language beautifully. Bill Gates grasped her hand and gave her the award.

Our organic links within our own society are badly broken.

On June 19th – a mere two months later, reporting from the Grenfell Tower disaster… I spotted a picture of Firdows on a “missing poster”. She and her entire family of five are believed to have been incinerated together on the 22nd floor. Two weeks ago Firdows’ and her father’s remains had been confirmed using DNA.

Firdows has been described as “the most intelligent, wise and eloquent girl”. I was fortunate to witness that first hand and since then I often think: “What might she have become? What were her life chances, once she had been picked out? Could she have prevailed over the fractures in our society and succeeded?”

Britain is not alone in this – our organic links within our own society are badly broken. In part because the echelons from which our media are drawn do not for the most part fully reflect the population amongst whom we live and to whom we seek to transmit information and ideas.

Grenfell speaks to us all about our own lack of diversity, and of capacity to reach into the swathes of Western society with whom we have no connection. Like my fellow journalists I have spent many hours around Grenfell. I have come to know a number of the survivors, and speak to them regularly by phone or email.

So casually written off as nameless migrants, scroungers, and the rest. Actually, and it should be no shock to us, the tower was FULL of talent. Not least the wonderful and talented artist Khadija Saye who died with her mother, on the verge of a major breakthrough.

We the media report the lack of diversity in other walks of life – but our own record is nothing like good enough. The Sutton Trust has revealed that just under 80% of top editors were educated at private or grammar schools. Compare that with the 88% of the British public now at comprehensives.

That is why I want to urge everyone and anyone in this room with the power to do it – give the individuals who work with and for you the space to do something, anything, in the wider community we are here to communicate with. Some of us do plenty of this already, but others do very little in this regard.

It is one fertile route to discovering lives and issues about which we might never learn. We have to widen both our contact with, and awareness of, those who live outside and beyond our elite. Our elite is narrow and deep … but the throng of those who have borne the brunt of austerity and not shared in the lives we have experienced is WIDE and even deeper.

We can as a country no longer allow ourselves to be SO ignorant of the lives of others.

This is an extract from the MacTaggart Lecture 2017 presented by Jon Snow at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

You Decide

  1. Is the media to blame for our lack of understanding of the lives of others?


  1. Imagine you are asked to do a TV report on “How the other half live”. Write a proposal describing the programme you are going to make.

Word Watch

Debate Mate
An educational charity dedicated to improving social mobility. It runs after school debating clubs in areas of high child poverty, aiming to give disadvantaged young people confidence, and communication skills. In addition to working in the UK it operates programmes in Nepal, Africa, Jamaica, the Middle East, and the United States.
Khadija Saye
Khadija Saye, born in London, had just produced her first major body of work. Her work was being exhibited as part of a showcase of emerging artists at the Venice Biennale. Tate Britain has marked her creativity by showing one of her works as a memorial to those who died in the Grenfell Tower disaster. See her profile from The Guardian in Become An Expert.
The Sutton Trust
A foundation which seeks to improve social mobility in the UK. It has researched into the educational backgrounds of those at the top of the UK’s professions from the law to the House of Commons, to leading journalists, and the arts. Its research has consistently shown the UK’s professional elite to be disproportionately educated at private schools and Oxbridge.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.