Jon Snow on raising the voices of the underrepresented

Posted 21 September 2017

Channel 4 News Presenter, Jon Snow opened Media Trust's Stronger Voices event run in partnership with The Guardian Foundation and Open Society Foundations. Here he shares his thoughts on what he describes as the 'disconnect' between the media and society's marginalised voices.

On Monday I was invited by Media Trust to open their Stronger Voices event at The Guardian. The event was a celebration of the work the charity has been doing to help raise the profile of underrepresented community groups in the media but most importantly it was bringing together those community groups with the media industry for a meeting of minds. A day of much needed discussion and debate on a hugely important issue: the disconnect between the mainstream media and the marginalised voices in our society.

We, the media industry are part of the elite and have little awareness, contact, or connection with those not of the elite

A month prior to the Stronger Voices event, I was honoured to deliver the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. In my lecture to my colleagues in the media industry, I was certain that when I told them that we, the media knew nothing of how the other half lived, I would be shouted down. But in fact, I think everyone accepted that there is a tremendous gulf.  We, the media industry are part of the elite and have little awareness, contact, or connection with those not of the elite. And this is a dangerous place to be.

The disconnect

To me, this disconnect has become all too apparent over the past year, from the Brexit referendum to the American presidential election. Journalists, myself included, have got it wrong. The thing that woke me up more than any other single event was the fire at Grenfell Tower on the 14th of June. Never before has one event shown the media to be so out of touch with the marginalised voices in our society. As the fire took hold and in the days that followed, there were inaccurate reports from the mainstream media about who lived in the tower and the sort of a place it was.

It was home to a vibrant community, but a community which no one in the media had any contact with whatsoever

Since the fire, I have engaged very heavily with the community in the tower and it was absolutely packed with immense talent. Those who managed to escape with their phones have shown me photos of their lives, and their flats were beautiful. They loved living there. It was home to a vibrant community, but a community which no one in the media had any contact with whatsoever.

Months before the fire, in October 2016 a blog on the Grenfell action group site had warned of poor fire safety and the significant threat this posed to the tower and its residents. The media never saw it but of course reading it now you see, set out, everything you needed to know about the tragedy that would unfold eight months later. Long gone are the local newspapers that would have once highlighted the issues and concerns of communities which would in turn inform the national media.

The rise of Google and social media advertising has starved local newspapers of their income, almost extinguishing them completely. If you don’t have local journalists there is no way in which local communities can connect with the local media which in turn, can inform the national media.

Although the digital revolution and social media offers an opportunity to charities and communities to spread the word of their cause and reach new audiences, it has done little to combat the widening divide between the media industry and modern society.

Bridging the gap

To tackle this divide we need a bridge. That need for a bridge was represented very strongly by the charities and community groups at the Stronger Voices event. It was a chance to open a dialogue between those that represent the marginalised voices in society, and the media. It brought together charities and community groups with the senior editors and journalists that control Britain’s news agenda.

I strongly believe there is a path forward

Raising the voices of the underrepresented is something Media Trust has been working to achieve for the past 23 years. In 2017 Britain, the need for these voices to be heard has never been greater. Grenfell proves this fact.

I strongly believe there is a path forward. We need to continue the dialogue that began on Monday. I urge Media Trust to continue striving to bridge the gap between the charity and community groups that represent the unheard in our society and the media industry. Only then will we start to see much needed change.


Jon Snow has been a supporter of Media Trust since the charity was established in 1994. He is a previous Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees.

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