EU has a long way to go on diversity in the media sector, lawmaker says

MEP Evin Incir. [Fred MARVAUX / European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report Diversity in the media: representing the EU’s inclusion agenda.

When it comes to progress on diversity and inclusion (D&I) both on and off-screen, MEP Evin Incir told EURACTIV, the EU has a long way to go before its words, contained in a number of strategies and action plans, turn into action. 

She said the biggest obstacle for progress is often in the EU Council, where member states block more decisive action, but acknowledged that EU institutions are not leading by example as they still lag behind in diverse representation.

Swedish MEP Evin Incir is the co-president of the European Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity intergroup and member of the LGBTI intergroup and a member of EU40. 

What are your thoughts on the current state of D&I in Europe and the part that the EU can play in making improvements moving forwards? Why is the role of the media sector so important in this? 

The lack of diversity and inclusion in media is a portrait of society as a whole. It is a symptom of a lack of progress in society. Still in 2022, we have a power order that shuts us out because of race, gender, colour, sexuality, sexual belonging and disability.

Society as a whole and the media sector, in particular, must take responsibility to not reproduce a power structure that benefits the few and oppresses the many. Each and every person in our union must be able to fulfil their dreams. We therefore need to break down visible barriers, such as discrimination, and invisible barriers, such as lack of representation. They are both in the end connected to each other. 

I am glad that we are seeing more of an intersectional approach in different strategies and action plans – Gender Equality Strategy, LGBTIQ-strategy, Anti-racism Action Plan, etc., but we still have a long way left to go beyond our words and turn them into action, especially in the current time of backlash.

Diversity in media sector: Still lots of room for improvement

Europe’s newsrooms are still predominantly white and middle-class, though societies are changing at a rapid speed. Experts are calling on the sector to change and enable journalists to reflect the society they are reporting about.

Often there’s a focus on on-screen representation, but there’s also a significant D&I gap off-screen, particularly in less-visible roles in the media sector. What role do you see the EU playing here when it comes to ensuring wider access to jobs in the industry? 

Off and on-screening representation goes hand in hand. When it is a challenge to assume a less visible role, a more visible role becomes even harder to get. The EU and its member states can and must encourage diversity and all our citizens’ possibility to get a job based on their talent by increasing skills among unrepresented groups as well as supporting industries that take responsibility for greater inclusion. 

There has been a lot of focus on awareness-raising in current and past initiatives. Do you think this is being sufficiently complemented with substantive actions?

Many times the media sector is unfortunately forgotten when talking about diversity. We need to address it more and with concrete goals, for both traditional and social media. 

It is especially worrying in those EU member states where we see a backlash. That backlash includes a stone-age mentality of what is “normal” and attacks on already vulnerable groups in our society as well as the politicization of media. Free and independent media is essential, including state-owned media and support, to ensure that all institutions in society mirror the population.

Do you see a lack of action when it comes to the EU’s response to national-level developments, such as the recent Hungarian media law targeting LGBTQ+ rights? 

The EU contains mainly three different institutions. Among them, I am disappointed at the EU Council the most; it constitutes a barrier for the EU to be even harder against governments such as the ones in Hungary and Poland. It is time to use the new rule of law mechanism, but because of the deal done in the Council, still one year after the mechanism was introduced, it has not been implemented. We are still waiting for the judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Portrayal and promotion – Hungary's LGBTQI+ law explained

Controversy over a new Hungarian law banning LGBTQI+ references for minors is set to be raised by several EU leaders during their 24-25 June summit, originally intended to focus on foreign policy issues. But what is this law, and how does it fit into the Hungarian government’s anti-LGBT agenda? EURACTIV’s media partner Telex takes a closer look.

How does this, and the lack of diverse representation within the EU institutions themselves, fit with commitments to promote and protect the rights of different groups in the media or other sectors?

It is of course a part of the same struggle. However, it is crucial that the EU institutions themselves live up to what they preach- domestically and in external actions, otherwise, they will not become trustworthy. And to be frank, the EU institutions are still lagging behind, like the rest of the society. 

I am happy though that Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli has intensified the struggle for inclusion during this mandate. But for true inclusion, the whole Commission must take its share of responsibility and ensure that the member states and private sector do the same.

Is enough attention being paid to long-term progress, or vice-versa: are current initiatives failing to address the need for action in the short term?

There are both long-term and short-term goals in place, even though the long-term ones are harder to achieve and are much more dependent on the member states also doing their share. Among the short-term goals, I welcome last year’s appointment of the first-ever anti-racism coordinator. One of the most important next steps would be that the EU Council helped out by unblocking the horizontal anti-discrimination directive which encompasses more discrimination grounds than today and includes a bigger part of society. 

The Power of Representation On Screen

ViacomCBS’s new global research study on representation in TV shows and movies reveals a desire for authentic representation – and the importance of getting it right.

How do  audiences around the world feel about how people like themselves are depicted …

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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