Read the report of the RTS All Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity in television
Real progress is finally being made in tackling the lack of diversity in the British television sector, but more work needs to be done.
This is according to Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, who was speaking at a highly charged RTS debate held at the House of Commons.
Vaizey said broadcasters’ announcements of recent initiatives showed that efforts were at last being made to improve employment opportunities for people in the BAME (black and minority ethnic) communities who want to forge careers in TV.
He singled out Sky for praise and drew attention to the work of ex-BSkyB executive Sophie Turner Laing. Her determination to act on diversity was one of the reasons for the company’s diversity targets being so “ambitious.”
The minister said that ITV’s proposals were “slightly more opaque”, while some people regarded the BBC’s plans as “unambitious”. He awaited Channel 4’s diversity proposals with “eager anticipation”.
“The BAME community feels they have talked about this issue for 30 years and nothing has changed,” stressed the minister. “If anything, things have got worse. It is a truly shocking position to be in… Intervention by broadcasters to give people a leg up is very important.”
The difficulties relate not only to new entrants to TV, but also to more established people trying to develop their careers at broadcasters and producers.
Vaizey made clear that he opposed Lenny Henry’s plan to introduce diversity quotas and for broadcasters to provide ring-fenced money to support BAME talent.
However, he stressed that, for him, diversity was “an active watching brief” and that, “if necessary, government would have to push harder” to ensure that real improvements were made.
He said that unless change is evident in the next 12 months, more pressure would be necessary.
Whoever wins next May’s general election needs to stay on top of the issue.
Vaizey said the progress that had been made by the Creative Diversity Network in becoming a free-standing body with its own executive and plans to introduce staff monitoring in the TV sector.
His own interest in TV’s dismal record on diversity was galvanised after seeing Henry perform in The Comedy of Errors. And in January, Vaziey held talks with the comedian and actor at a widely publicised round table that he had organised.
Helen Goodman MP, Shadow Minister of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said that TV was possibly “the most important cultural force” in the UK. It was therefore vital that TV reflected the diversity of modern Britain on screen and in its employment practices.
She praised Vaizey for his commitment to the issue, but insisted there was an overwhelming need for a strategy to improve BAME representation in TV staffing.
Goodman welcomed the CDN’s monitoring initiative.
“Statistics do matter, because the clearer the picture we have, the firmer the base we will for us to take action,” she said. “But we need to be confident that, when we pull levers, those levers will have an effect…"
“We need to focus on the structure and content of the modern TV industry, because it has changed a lot.”
With more SMEs and independent producers, concentrating on the HR policies of big broadcasters was no longer enough, she added.
Speaking for the Liberal Democrats, Stephen Gilbert MP drew attention to his own experience as a gay man raised in a working-class family in Cornwall.
“If you turn on the TV, I don’t exist,” he said. “I’m a gay man who happens to wear a suit, not something you see particularly in the programmes broadcast by our major broadcasters.”
He added: “We don’t see enough black, minority ethnic, disabled people or women on TV… TV does not reflect the nation it is serving and the people who are watching.”
Speaking from the floor, veteran diversity campaigner and former RTS CEO Simon Albury praised Vaizey’s initiatives.
“No minister has done more on this issue than Ed Vaizey. He has set the benchmark,” opined Albury.
His point was echoed by Baroness Benjamin, who has worked in TV as a presenter, producer and regulator.
“This is the most exciting time we’ve had dealing with this issue,” stressed the Baroness. “Without Ed pushing the way he’s pushed… Real, positive changes are being made, which I think will be lasting change… People get it and they understand what needs to be done.”
“TV Diversity: Who Will Win Your Vote?” was produced by Marcus Ryder, Editor of Current Affairs, BBC Scotland, and held at the House of Commons on 17 November. A full report of the event will be published in the January edition of Television.
Report by Steve Clarke