Lenny Henry – Ofcom, TV & Fake Diversity (Full Speech)

THE DIVERSITY SPEECH: 18 JULY

 “Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen ,honoured guests….that bloke at the back who’s just here for the meat raffle; Good afternoon.

Now I think you’ll all agree that in today’s Britain with Brexit looming, the need for all our voices to be heard is more important than ever. In a country where racist attacks are on the rise, diversity is not a luxury , it is essential.

And in an age where people retreat into their own social media bubbles of self reinforcing and extreme world views, and that includes the leader of the free world, diversity isn’t a luxury , it is essential.

A media that reflects everyone’s realities , fears, aspirations and stories, is perhaps the only solution to our increasingly splintered society.

It can be the glue that binds. .

In one of the most competitive international markets, where original content creation is key –diversity is not a luxury , it is essential.

The good news is that today , every single major broadcaster recognises the importance of diversity, from Sky to channel four. And diversity is now for the first time, an official part of the BBC Charter.

None of the broadcasters were doing these things before we started campaigning.

There has definitely been progress in furthering our cause and we should be proud of that.

But unfortunately, today is not a day of celebration , because progress isn’t victory . Today I’m sounding the alarm, because all that hard earned progress might come to nothing.

 Why?

Well, yesterday, Ofcom, the organisation which effectively polices the broadcast industry, completed a consultation process on how the BBC’s performance should be measured, including meeting their diversity commitments under the new charter.

At the back of the room is the formal response that my colleagues and I have submitted to Ofcom. Please read it at your leisure .

The headline, my biggest concern , is something I want to call Fake Diversity .

Let me explain: Right now, Ofcom say they will set the BBC targets for onscreen diversity but will not set targets for diversity behind the camera. They suggest that as long as we have a BAME (i.e. Black, Asian or minority ethnic)person on the TV screen ,giving the appearance of diversity, then it is absolutely OK; even if those who create and make the content remain un-diverse.

This is ‘Fake Diversity.’

It’s all very well to keep saying – “Look, this show has a black supporting artist, or an Asian antagonist, or a gay lead: but who was the cinematographer, the editor, the director, the producer or the commissioner? If the pickers and deciders remain the same –then nothing has really changed.

Now I love Ofcom-and I am sure they believe with all their heart, that behind the camera is just as important as on screen. But much as I love them – the fact of the matter is; What gets measured gets done.

When the regulator sets targets, broadcasters have to meet them. And Ofcom are not setting targets for behind the camera diversity. So irrespective of their best intentions, their current approach will just lead to more fake diversity.

But the problem of fake diversity is not exclusive to just Ofcom or any one broadcaster. Currently, every single broadcaster has its own definition of diversity. Some focus on onscreen diversity –others have definitions that are so broad, including: Gender, disability, sexuality, race and class, that as long as programmes can tick three of those boxes, they are officially ‘diverse’. But once you make it that broad, surprise surprise, almost every programme can be made to fit that definition.

And the result?

Just take a look at this picture of the winners of this year’s major television craft awards: These awards are presented to off screen talent.

All gifted people, but you can hardly call them ‘diverse’ –look at that -it’s like a White House Staff meeting.

This is the dirty secret of what our industry really looks like behind the camera.

So, what exactly are the statistics concerning BAME employment off screen.

The BBC recently stated that 14.5% of its workforce are Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic. That’s great, isn’t it? Let’s open a bottle of Cava and all remove one item of clothing.

That number looks good, right? But let’s investigate how they arrived at that figure.

A large number of those BAME staff work in the business and finance departments.

These people are important but they are not directly involved in programme making.

The figure also includes all the staff employed by the World Service, in departments such as the Swahili, Arabic and Far eastern services- as well as specialised teams based in London, often not broadcasting in English, and definitely not aimed at the British Audience. If you remove these people, only around 9% of the work force making programmes you and I watch or listen to, are BAME.

To quote Donald Trump’s Barber…” It gets worse.”

That 9 Percent only comprises people with BBC contracts.

But over half the programmes you watch and enjoy on the BBC are made by independent companies. And the BBC doesn’t keep statistics on those companies.

So, what is the true number of BAME programme makers working for British Broadcasters?

The truth is, no one knows –but here’s a clue.

Director’s UK, the professional association of TV and Film directors, found that just one point five percent of programmes in the UK are made by people of colour. That’s not just the BBC, that is across the industry.

That number includes Channel 4, Sky, ITV and Channel 5.

I stress this because I am not BBC bashing here – I’m an equal opportunity basher. No one can accuse me of not being inclusive. Besides, I’d like them to bring back Delbert Wilkins.

So, let me give you another number; ZERO

In the director’s UK sample study, zero is the number of talk shows directed by BAME people.

It doesn’t end there.

Zero: the number of period dramas directed by BAME people

Zero: The number of game shows directed by BAME people

Zero: sketch shows directed by BAME people

Reality TV? (looks around) Zero

Panel shows? Say it with me –everybody: Zero

Children’s comedy: With feeling, everybody: Zero

Children’s entertainment: Let ’em hear you in downing street: Zero

Multi Camera and Entertainment – Say It – (Zero!)

Actually, you’re wrong there – I’m over the moon because this number, everybody is not zero –it’s 0.06% – Can I just get you (points at one guy up front) to do one hand clap for that 0.06%?

(dude claps once) Thank you my friend (don’t overdo it)

So, while the BBC’s official figures say 14.5% of their work force are BAME, the number of people actually responsible for making the programmes you and I watch, is probably closer to 1.5%.

The Number of BAME people behind the scenes in our industry is at crisis level. And we need you, Ofcom to do something about it.

For those of you who tell me I should be patient, that things are changing but just slowly, I want us to bow our heads and remember those dearly departed in the last year:

Aaquil Ahmed: The first Muslim head of BBC religion

Maxine Watson: Acting head of documentary commissioning

Tamara Howe: Controller of Business, comedy and entertainment

David Okuefuna – the first black channel executive of BBC’s 4 and 2

Marcus Ryder –Head of current affairs BBC Scotland.

Ok they aren’t actually dead, but in the past year, all these senior BAME figures have left the BBC.

The situation is so bad, the BBC themselves even covered the issue on BBC 4’s media show. This isn’t crazy Black radicals, or the right-wing alt right brigade bashing the BBC, this is white people in the BBC itself saying “Tarquin, we have a problem.”

And here’s the crazy thing.

If Ofcom actually insisted the BBC were more diverse behind the camera, the outcome might be greater relevance for today’s audience, higher viewing figures and an increase in overseas sales.

A study in the US showed that TV Dramas with 40 to 50% BAME behind the camera were the most successful. You know the least successful? The ones with less than 10 % BAME.

By asking Ofcom to set behind the camera targets, we’re literally asking them to put money into the BBC’s pockets.

Today I am highlighting some of the problems in British media. But it impacts on all strata of British society.

You need only look at the negative commentary about immigrants in the press, the uneven reporting on Muslims here in the UK; the value placed on some people’s lives right here in London, who can’t make themselves heard –even when all they’re asking for is a decent sprinkler system.

As I said at the beginning – ‘Diversity is not a luxury –it is essential’

This is a fight about who is and who isn’t considered British:

Whose voices do and do not matter:

Our voices matter.

Our stories matter

Our lives matter.

The fact is, Diversity has been defined and addressed already, very successfully by Ofcom.

Well, regional diversity that is. And it was all about regional diversity behind the camera.

They didn’t try to measure how many people were wearing kilts on screen, or whether someone had a Geordie accent: Channel 4’s Big Brother was NOT a regional programme: (Big Bro voice) “Day 756 in the Big Brother hoose – and Sir Lenny is still banging on about div-vor-sity, man.”

When it comes to regional diversity, Ofcom set a clear definition-it included: where a programme’s money was being spent, who was employed behind the camera and where the company making the programme was based. Ofcom must do the same for other types of diversity.

You know what else Ofcom did? They set a minimum level that the BBC and other Broadcasters must meet in order to fulfil their license requirements.

They set a minimum number of programmes which must be made outside London;

they   set a minimum number of current affairs programmes that Channel 4 and the BBC must produce every year.

They even set a minimum number of children’s programmes that must be produced.

When it comes to BAME diversity, Ofcom must do the same: they must set a minimum standard the BBC have to meet behind the camera.

For God’s sake , all we’re asking ,is to be given the same respect as Peppa Pig!

 

            The fact is, it is possible and actually quite easy, to set enforceable targets for those employed in front of and behind the camera. It is possible to ring fence money for diverse programmes. It is possible to make our media truly diverse.

           

            Ladies and Gentlemen, Ofcom, esteemed politicians: Britain has some of the best media in the world but it is failing far too many of us. There are many factors at play but a lack of genuine diversity is at the core of this problem. We cannot afford to fail. We cannot get our media wrong. The stakes are too high.

If the British Television industry is to maintain its position in an increasingly competitive international marketplace; if it is to serve both a domestic and a global audience, then diversity behind the camera is essential.

I’d like to finish with a direct plea to Ofcom: so much has been done in recent years to improve diversity on screen. All we’re asking for is the same concerted effort in all areas of production, to ensure that what we see on screen TRULY reflects what goes on in the real world. Diversity is not a luxury, it is essential.

 

           

 

 

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