Written By: Tara Conlan 28/06/15
The BBC’s diversity adviser Lady Grey-Thompson put the cat among the pigeons last week when she said the BBC may have to spend around £100m if it wants to achieve true diversity. Speaking at a Royal Television Society event she said, “money helps and it does matter”, adding that, “If you were going to ring-fence an amount [for the BBC] it would probably have to be £100m.”
Since Lenny Henry delivered his rallying speech during the annual Bafta television lecture in London last year broadcasters have announced a number of initiatives and targets aimed at improving black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) representation on-screen and within the creative industries. But are they putting their money where their mouths are? Figures from the last Ofcom public service broadcasting annual report show that the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 spent £2.7bn on programmes in 2013. So far the amount publicly pledged towards diversity per annum by those companies is around £7.1m.
Small potatoes it appears. However, some changes are not attributed as a direct cost but as part of a programme’s general budget, so are more difficult to quantify. As Grey-Thompson said: “If all we had at the BBC was £2.1m, I’d be going ‘that’s not enough’, but it’s how you can pull in those other budgets and be creative,” adding: “It’s not just about money, it’s got to be about shifting attitudes, and if people don’t deliver, you have to give them an ultimatum and say: ‘This is not good enough’.”
She went on to say that those executives that did not embrace change should be fired: “People are able to hide behind discrimination – against disabled people, against women – are able to hide and discriminate in lots of ways and there has to be a point where we say: ‘Do you know what, this is not good enough, we just don’t want someone like you in the organisation.’ I would be much tougher.”
With that in mind, it is worth seeing exactly what broadcasters have promised. Sky does not detail specific amounts it spends, with director of entertainment channels Stuart Murphy believing all commissioners have to take responsibility, rather than one diversity boss. But it has impressive targets. By the end of 2015 at least 20% of the stars and writers of its UK-originated non-news shows will come from a BAME background and it looks on track to meet that.
Among its schemes, the BBC wants BAME on-screen representation to increase to 15% by 2017 and has a BAME fund of £2.1m a year. “We are implementing ambitious plans that we believe will make a real difference to diversity across the board on and off air,” it says, “and ask to be judged on our progress in the coming years.”
Channel 4 has doubled spending on diversity to £5m a year, which covers all commitments laid out in its Diversity Charter and includes an annual £2m Alpha Fund. It also has its Growth Fund of £20m to be invested in independents over three years from January 2014 and has invested in two BAME companies at undisclosed cost. In addition senior executives will have to hit diversity targets to trigger bonuses and it is aiming for 20% of all staff to be BAME by 2020.
ITV does not have figures or targets. Instead director of television Peter Fincham prefers a “social partnership” so commissioners “play a full part in maximising the growth of diverse talent and increasing diversity on screen”. There are no measurements of how this has gone although Fincham is due to report back on progress at a producers’ forum.
Since it was bought from Richard Desmond by Viacom, Channel 5 has rejoined industry body the Creative Diversity Network and is adopting Viacom’s practices one of which is such as building in diversity targets for bonuses.
The channel is assessing its performance and monitoring diversity before it decides what to do next but its future is looking more rosy. Like ITV, it is unlikely to set quotas.
In addition the government has given £130,000 for an Equality and Human Rights Commission scheme to give advice on equality issues to the television industry. Is it all enough to bring about change?
Actor Jimmy Akingbola, who appeared in BBC2’s hit Rev and Channel 4 satire Ballot Monkeys, and is a co-founder of TriForce Productions, agreed with Grey-Thompson that broadcasters need to follow words with money. “I’ve spoken to actors in their 70s and when I bring up the discussion they roll their eyes and say we were having the same discussion years ago.
“Not enough is being done. Lenny Henry did well putting it out there in the public eye but there has been a lot of talk and not much action. It’s got to come from the top. There’s been so much talk and discussions but where’s the change? We don’t expect to see it change tomorrow but do want to see that subtle changes are taking place.”
Of the £2.1m BBC fund, “a lot of people discuss that saying it’s not much and ask ‘well how serious are you?’ Money is very important, it’s representative … it’s about the attitude”. He said that if not enough investment is put in, content will fail and so will diversity initiatives.
“It’s not that we’re saying get rid of white male faces tomorrow, no-one’s saying that, but people are saying there needs to be a change. For me it has to start somewhere and…do something that’s not been done before, we’ve done the talking.”
He said a lot of young people feel television is “not for them” which “leads me to think not enough is being done.”
“I’m not saying we’ve got all the answers” said Akingbola, “but let’s change the way of working, let’s not work in the normal way.” Equality campaigner Simon Albury agrees that “money is the driver. At the moment companies have ambitions. The BBC targets are in the long grass, beyond charter renewal. Tanni Grey-Thompson hit the nail on the head.”
Albury recalls the statistics quoted by Lenny Henry last year. Henry said he was speaking on behalf of the 2,000 BAME people who have left the industry over the last three years while the industry overall has grown by over 4,000. He suggested ringfencing money for BAME shows and setting targets adapted from a BBC model used to increase programmes from the nations and regions by 400%.
Albury says: “It’s an ingenious solution and it worked for regional programming.” He calls the BBC’s diversity fund “derisory” and says it was “about on-screen representation” – more needs to be done behind the scenes and in putting people from BAME backgrounds in positions of power: “The figure Tanni Grey-Thompson talked about would drive the diversity of BAME employment.”
BBC1 and BBC2 are the most popular channels for BAME audiences, and some within the BBC argue that making diversity “mainstream”, rather than quotas, is the route for long-term change.
And Equality and Human Rights Commission disability commissioner Lord Holmes of Richmond argues that “money is obviously an element but in my view it is much more about resourcefulness than resources. It’s about the culture, the belief and leadership.” Holmes adds creative companies have to realise that, “if they have a more diverse workforce and more diverse talent on-screen it makes a better production and better business”.
The EHRC is providing practical advice on legal issues that may be holding companies back from making their workforce more diverse. The guidance will be launched at the Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival in August.
“What we’re trying to do is enable broadcasters to nail this. They should do and must do more and we hope our guidance will help,” says Holmes, adding that it should help bust “myths and excuses” around employing BAME staff. But he says it is also down to independent production companies to play their part: “It’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s about making better programmes.”