‘Non-standard’ English accents in the media have been criticised for being ‘incorrect’ and hard to understand.
When you set a television show in a certain place, one of the ways you make the story feel ‘real’ is to get your actors to speak like the people who live in that area. So you wouldn’t think it would be controversial that The Responder, which is set in Liverpool, features predominantly Scouse accents. Enter Alan Sugar, who suggested doing this was a mistake because non-Liverpudlians like himself couldn’t understand it.
But there can also be substantial harm caused by a lack of accent representation in UK media, and many people feel these harms outweigh the cost of any slight decrease in understanding. For a start, only 2 percent of the UK population naturally speak with a RP accent, meaning that if this is the dominant voice heard in the media then the vast, vast majority of Brits won’t feel represented. And because RP is so closely associated with the upper classes, this lack of representation can also feel elitist. Research done by the UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom showed that working-class people thought that BBC content reflected the lives of middle class people more than their own.
Accent representation has vastly improved in British media since RP was deemed the ‘proper’ way to speak in the 1920s. But many people feel there is still a long way to go, particularly when it comes to jobs like news anchors, where the need for candidates that read as 'serious' and 'professional' may be particularly activating hiring manager’s accent prejudice. And alongside increasing representation and combating bias there may be another advantage to increasing accent diversity: the more people hear an accent, the more likely they are to be able to understand it. Perhaps Lord Sugar should cast more Scouse entrepreneurs on the next season of The Apprentice.
We live in the same neighbourhood, area, country, and planet with about seven billion other people, and our economies inevitably overlap all the time. That means the economic choices we make might have consequences outside our control, and someone else’s choices might have a direct effect on your economy – even if you’ve never met them before…