Session Four: Access into the media and entertainment sectors

This session of the Social Mobility APPG‘s inquiry into entertainment and media explored challenges for accessing the entertainment and media professions.

Unpaid internships were the focus of the first panel of the evening: Sir Peter Bazelgette, Chair of the Arts Council and ITV, described them as ‘the curse of the arts industry’. Both Bazelgette and Carys Nelkon of Arts Emergency said that the expectation that young people will work for less than the national minimum wage was the major barrier for disadvantaged young people interested in accessing jobs in the creative industries. Sir Peter called for employers who don’t pay a fair wage to be named and shamed.

In the second session, Andy Cairns of Sky Sports News, Megan Bramall of BBC Breakfast, Helena Carter of ITV News and Joanne Butcher of the National Council for the Training of Journalists all agreed that it was important for society to have a more diverse group of people producing the news that we consume. However all the panelists thought that access to work experience and a lack of good careers advice was stopping many less advantaged young people from considering a career in the field.

Swapping Hollywood for Westminster, award-winning actor Michael Sheen kicked off the third session. The actor, best-known for his portrayals of Tony Blair and Brian Clough, was speaking about the barriers that stop disadvantaged young people accessing careers in media and the arts.

Sheen warned that cuts to arts budgets mean pathways into acting are now closed for many young people. He benefited from drama classes at his comprehensive school in Port Talbot, before joining a youth theater and then going on to receive a grant to attend drama school, but these opportunities no longer existed for the young people in his area, Sheen said.

He argued that a lack of funding for youth arts projects is often down to the perception that artistic talent is innate and doesn’t need nurturing. Sheen was quick to point out that “acting is a craft” and “part of being a good actor is making it look really easy”, but in reality “it takes ages before you are really good at it”. The actor was joined by Stuart Worden, Principal of the BRIT school in Croydon, who added that: “we say, ‘that’s not exactly rocket science’ – we should also say ‘that’s not exactly contemporary dance,’ it’s just as hard”.

Stuart Worden, the second panellist for the final session, spoke passionately about the importance of making sure all young people have access to a good arts education at school. He warned that curriculum changes have led to a dangerous devaluing of arts subjects in school and highlighted that 46,000 fewer students will take a creative subject at GCSE this year. The educationalist pointed out that this was an economic problem as well as a cultural one: the creative industries are one of fasting growing sectors of the UK economy but “if society is hell-bent on creating an arts-free education, there will be nobody there to take these jobs”.

Both Sheen and Worden agreed that improving access to careers in the arts industries is critical. Sheen said that failure to ensure working class voices are heard in film, theatre and TV will have a wider impact on society as a whole. He added that we have to make sure that theater appeals to everybody and reflects the experiences of the country as a whole, not just the privileged few.