Can the new BBC Diversity Group make any difference? by Simon Albury

Today the BBC appointed a new  Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group to “help advise the BBC on how it portrays all of the UK’s communities on air, and represents them in its workforce.”

On BAME workforce representation, Ofcom data shows the BBC with 13% lags fourth behind Viacom/Channel 5 with19%, Channel 4 with 18% and Sky with 15%.

Ofcom/Kantar research shows BAME viewers prefer Netflix and Channel 4 to the BBC and said the BBC was widely considered to have a White, middle class, South East bias.

The new group has some great people on it including diversity champion June Sarpong and it will be chaired by BBC Non-Executive Director Tom Ilube, with BBC Non-Executive Director Tanni Grey-Thompson as co-sponsor. These are all good people but can they do any good?

If they don’t have their own research budget and independent staff, they will be wholly dependent on the BBC managers who have performed so poorly in the past.

They will be up against BBC Group HR Director Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth. In the last year BBC HR practices have been condemned by two House of Commons select committees and an BBC internal report. The new Head of Workforce Diversity will report to her.

If this group is serious, there are two things it must do from the start.

Programme Diversity Data

The Group must get the BBC to come clean on programme diversity data. Despite receiving almost £4billion a year from the public and being required by the BBC Charter to have diversity in internal and external supply the BBC refuses to publish data on the simple percentage of BAME people working on-screen and off on programmes. BAME people who do get to work on BBC programmes say they seldom see many others.

Racial Discrimination

The Group must provide a confidential hotline so that it can hear directly from BBC staff and programme makers who experience racial discrimination. In March, three different black women, in some distress, contacted me to tell me of their experience of racial discrimination at the BBC. The external recruits to the BBC Clore Leadership programme said they found a toxic environment and they all left.

The BBC has a brutal way of seeking to grind down people who raise grievances. You start with a grievance procedure and when the grievance procedure isn’t resolved you start on a journey to an employment tribunal. Every step of the way you find yourself outgunned by the BBC which uses expensive lawyers to string it out and wear you down.

It maybe that whistleblowing is offering a better way to resolve BBC racial discrimination issues than grievance procedures and tribunals. I was due to get an answer to an FOI on whistle blowing this week.It hasn’t come.

When people experience racial discrimination, this group should know about it and it needs to ensure there is zero tolerance for racism in the BBC.

I’m not optimistic, but formidable June Sarpong is not to be underestimated. If she can get support from the rest of the group and force things through – who knows? – this new group might just make a difference.


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