Former BBC radio host Jon Holmes unleashed a fury of controversy last week when he tweeted that he had been fired from his job presumably for being too white and male based on the comments that had accompanied the news.
Sad to announce I’ve been axed from @BBCNowShow as ‘we want to recast with more women and diversity’ Tsk. And I didn’t even punch a producer
— Jon Holmes (@jonholmes1) September 26, 2016
Since then, Jon has doubled down on articles that have characterized this statement as a claim and insisted that it was exactly what he was told in the call the ended his 18-year stint on The Now Show. In a response to British paper the Independent, the BBC has avoided saying that Holmes was fired to make room for a diverse cast and instead chucked it up to the show’s evolution.
“While the Government’s new charter for the BBC does set us diversity targets, we always hire presenters on merit. We’d like to thank both Jon Holmes and Mitch Benn for their contributions, but – as we explained almost a week ago when the story first appeared in newspapers – our comedy shows are constantly evolving and it was simply time to create opportunities for new regulars when The Now Show returns this autumn.”
Perhaps the most antagonistic shove to the whole debacle was the publishing of Jon’s statement about the ordeal in the Daily Mail, which is widely considered to have a rivalry with the BBC. Holmes says that he chose to lay out his thoughts there after being confronted by Mail reporters and told the story would be running regardless.
Well, let’s just clear this up. That headline isn’t a quote, or what I’ve said at all.
— Jon Holmes (@jonholmes1) October 1, 2016
In his statement about the BBC radio sacking, Jon wondered if the quest for diversity wasn’t “being done a bit wrong,” writing that several colleagues had contacted him after the tweet to share similar stories. One such friend of Holmes was told she received a media job, then told days later she was “too middle class” for the position.
“Should I, as a white male, no fault of my own, be fired from my job for being… the wrong sex and color?… I’m not sure that’s helpful to anyone’s cause. I realize I’m probably jabbing an ill-judged pointy stick into a diversity wasp’s nest here, but maybe it’s time to open up the debate — and, in all honesty, not just because I’m on the receiving end.”
— Shane O’Connor (@Shaneonair) October 2, 2016
Since then, Jon has expressed regret at the way his comments were taken, saying that he meant to add a “level-headed” response to the debate as opposed to attacking diversity itself. Holmes particularly distanced himself from headlines like “former BBC radio host calls company racist.”
Still, even some Britons who advocate for diversity as part of their life’s work are at odds with the decision to fire Jon. Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission who has criticized the station for a lack of diversity before, said that such an action against the BBC radio host was actually a slight to people of color: Can they not, he asked, land such jobs on their own merits?
“They are misunderstanding what the point of the diversity drive was about. This sounds like somebody who is basically climbing their way up the greasy ladder and they think hiring black and Asian talent is part of what they have got to do to look good. But they don’t genuinely believe black or Asian people are as good as white people.”
— Chortle Comedy (@chortle) October 1, 2016
Jon’s firing isn’t the first time that key minority figures in British media have questioned the quotas. Before Holmes was removed from his BBC post, the country’s first black newscaster, Trevor McDonald, told the audience at a BAFTA celebration of his life that such measures are better served for extreme cases.
“In South Africa where 80 per cent of the population, 85 per cent of the population were discriminated against, to change that you had to do it. I think there are real philosophical problems about positive discrimination… I think it would be horrible to be the person who gets the job because of positive discrimination, and to have everybody in the room look around and say I know exactly why he or she has got that job, that’s awful. I’m a great believer in meritocracy.”
While the firing of Jon Holmes serves as a helpful symbol for the debate, diversity at the BBC’s radio and television empire is a much more complex issue. The news organization has failed to reach targets for black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, coming in at around 12.2 percent of employees. That’s around 1 percent less than the number of such minorities that make up British society, and around 2 percent below BBC goals for the end of 2017.
[Featured Image by Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock]