The Alumni Interview
Ben Hunte: Breaking boundaries at the BBC
Just five years after graduating from the University’s Malaysia campus, Ben Hunte (Cognitive Neuroscience, 2015) is one of the most influential broadcasters in Britain today as the BBC’s first LGBT Correspondent. A rising media star, Ben is already award-nominated for his journalism, with a nomination for Young Talent of the Year at the prestigious Royal Television Awards 2020 among others. After receiving an Alumni Laureate Award from the University in December, we caught up with Ben as he reflected on breaking boundaries at the BBC and becoming a voice for the LGBT community.
“Being a correspondent was my absolute biggest dream so to be actually living it is crazy!” says Ben. “I cried as I received my Alumni Laureate Award. There was a moment for me, when it really hit me, when I looked out at the audience and thought that a few years ago, I genuinely couldn’t have imagined being in the position that I am now.”
Representing the LGBT community
As the BBC’s first ever LGBT Correspondent, Ben has both a freedom and a responsibility to make the role representative of the community he speaks for.
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned in this role is that I’m beginning to see the LGBT community as less of a homogenous group and more of a bubble with lots of different communities underneath it,” says Ben. “Coming into it, I was saying things like ‘Well, the LGBT community think this and think that’, but actually there’s so many opinions within this one group. And I think during Pride season, it’s very easy to wash everything with a rainbow and act as if everyone thinks the same and dresses the same and wants the same things, but there are so many different ideals and approaches around what it is to be LGBT. I’m picking that apart slowly within this role and separating my reports to target areas of a group rather than the entire community.
“I have a great network of people that I can go to and speak about the stories that I want to do. I think it’s so important to get feedback and buy in from other people, otherwise you’re just projecting yourself or your stories. I’ve had a specific experience of being a gay man and it would be wrong of me to project that on other people. The more I speak to the community, the more I understand the issues that need to be covered.”
Journalism in the social media age
As a journalist in the social media age – and an LGBT influencer before that – Ben was prepared for the level of scrutiny that accompanies a prominent media profile. But the immediacy and volume of feedback has still been surprising.
“The maddest thing about social media is that feedback is immediate,” says Ben. “I can finish a live report and immediately get feedback from social media. I think in this role especially, people are very vocal about LGBT issues so it’s been interesting to see what people think about the things I do. It’s been very positive over the past few months, but there have also been some negatives. For instance, some people don’t understand that the BBC has to be balanced. So for a piece to be editorially sound, maybe I’ve had to speak to a group that don’t necessarily support certain things within the LGBT community, and a result of that people from the community have dragged me on social media.”
The voice of the BBC today
With a question mark hanging over the future of the BBC and debate over its role in a changing media landscape, Ben notes that the creation of his role has opened the door to LGBT issues being covered more seriously in mainstream media.
“The BBC has obviously been going a lot longer than I’ve been alive, and they have their guidelines and agendas. But I think it’s important to have the voice of the BBC. LGBT media has always been very focused on arts and entertainment. Within my role, the majority of my reports so far have been investigations, and they’re things which genuinely wouldn’t have had airtime if I hadn’t been in this role looking into them. Things like racism at Manchester Pride, men getting HIV as a result of not being on PrEP, sexual abuse of young black men. These are very serious topics and I think as a result of the BBC being what it is, and the editorial values they have, these stories are being told properly, in a fair and balanced way, and they’ve been better as a result of it.”
As media representation of LGBT stories increases, Ben hopes that the future will bring greater awareness of the perspectives and stories which haven’t yet been told.
“The thing about my role is that LGBT issues don’t just sit in one bubble,” says Ben. “An LGBT story isn’t just LGBT, it’s education or it’s technology or it’s science or anything else. So my patch is a lot of original journalism because otherwise these stories wouldn’t be covered. It’s nice to have this freedom, but it’s also quite stressful because there’s a lot I want to cover and I’ve got so many ideas. For the next few years, I want to just keep delivering. Fingers crossed that my work continues to make an impact – that’s the best feeling for a journalist.”