As the Ofcom review reveals half of BAME people feel under-represented and unfairly portrayed, the broadcaster needs to put its money where its mouth is.
Yesterday, Ofcom’s public service broadcasting review revealed that more than half of people from black ethnic groups felt both under-represented and unfairly portrayed.
Alas, this is unlikely to serve as a wake-up call at the BBC. The American war of independence was founded on one rallying cry: no taxation without representation. Recent remarks from Arts Council chair Sir Peter Bazalgette suggest the diversity revolution should adopt the same cry.
Last month Bazalgette told the Soho Create festival: “Where public money goes, that money must be for the benefit of everybody.” Yet black and minority ethnic people are under-represented and underemployed by the licence fee-funded BBC.
The BBC approach is wait and see, yet commercial rival Sky has a 20% target for the end of this year. The BBC has a 17% target for 2017, in the long grass beyond charter renewal. This isn’t good enough.
When it comes to viewers, the BBC already knows the gap in reach between BAME viewers and others grew in 2013-14 to 18%; that BBC One’s reach fell more steeply amongst BAME audiences compared with white audiences, with a 20% gap between them – and when it comes to staff, last year more BAME staff resigned from the BBC than at any point since 2009.
The lack of representation is there to see. Eighteen months ago when I appeared on Radio 4’s Today Show there was no BAME person in the BBC London New Broadcasting House newsroom at 8am, apart from one Asian runner. London is 40% BAME. On 3 March this year, at 6pm, in the same newsroom I counted only two BAME people out of the 70 at work.
In June a BBC diversity press release boasted about training and funding. The BBC is training more than 30 BAME graduate interns, six senior leaders, six future commissioners and has hired a new head of HR for “Diversity, Inclusion and Succession.”
Yet the BBC is ignoring all the BAME people who are already experienced and trained.
One example is Eno Alfred, a Black British postgraduate from the world-renowned journalism training course at the Columbia School of Journalism who applied for 15 jobs at the BBC. Despite extensive post graduate experience at the United Nations, The Daily Beast, The Atlanta Post, Fortune and Global Trade Review, Eno couldn’t even get an interview.
She went to Nigeria and is now a presenter on Good Morning Nigeria, and a reporter on 30 Minutes, an investigative strand.
At the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality I get a steady stream of complaints from experienced British BAME people who can’t get work. Research by professor Tracey Reynolds shows young BAME graduates have to go abroad to develop careers in their chosen fields.
At £2.1m, the BBC diversity creative talent fund, which focuses on portrayal, amounts to no more than a derisory 0.12% of the BBC’s (2012) content budget. Among the first fruits this year may be black American soprano, Angel Blue, appearing as a Proms presenter, and black American comedian, Reginald D Hunter, fronting Songs of the South.
Yet Hunter’s latest act, en route to the Edinburgh Festival, raises laughs with his account of working with an all white crew. Doreen Lawrence was also faced with an all white crew when she did an event at the BBC. She failed to get any laughs out of it.
The BBC complacency is hard to understand. The BBC has all sorts of “initiatives” but none of them do anything to drive BAME employment.
Thirty years ago Channel 4 invented the wheel on diversity. It had three spokes: Institutional Commitment (Jeremy Isaacs), Leadership and Vision (Sue Woodford) and MONEY! Quite quickly this delivered Desmonds, No Problem, Eastern Eye, Black on Black, The Bandung File, as well as less memorable shows, and also gave birth to new BAME Indies.
Money is the answer, and the BBC needs to take the advice of its independent diversity action group.
Last year one member, Lenny Henry, produced a credible plan for using ring fenced funding. Two weeks ago Tanni Grey-Thompson, another member, suggested that the BBC may have to spend about £100m if it wants to achieve true diversity.
A £100m ring fenced fund for the Lenny Henry plan would be a big step forward. As the Ofcom report makes clear – now is the time.
Source: The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/jul/03/bbc-diversity-cash-ofcom-review-bame