When Television approached me to assess the success, or otherwise, of the British TV industry policy announcements related to diversity over the past 12 months, I was going to resort to a standard journalistic approach: pick a few of the big announcements, look at what they promised to deliver and then conveniently conclude by saying something like “...but careers take longer than 12 months to build and systemic racism cannot be dismantled in a year. So, it is still a case of ‘wait and see’.”
Oh, noooo. The D word. Surely not Donald? No, not that D word – the other one. The one that makes your heart sink a little, too. The one that reminds you of years of struggle. The one that tells of endless meetings with fellow campaigners in drab rooms, banging heads against brick walls.
If you thought that defining diversity was easy, think again. As the chair of a stimulating and thought-provoking RTS event, Aaqil Ahmed, formerly the head of religion and ethics at the BBC, concluded: “Diversity in itself is diverse. For me, that understanding of it isn’t there for a lot of people.… It’s not a numbers game… diversity is very complicated.”
Throughout the “Defining diversity? That’s easy” session, attempts to provide a definition that all the panel could agree on proved elusive.
“Diversity is all of us,” said Creative Strategy consultant Ally Castle, a former programme maker and audience insights expert for the BBC.
“If you look at the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity) we all have those characteristics.
“It’s just that some of us are under-represented in the TV industry, on screen and perhaps in wider society.
If you are serious about television as a business you need to think internationally.” Those were the words of an executive producer speaking to me when I started work at the BBC in 1992.
It was five years before BBC Online officially launched and changed the meaning of “national broadcaster” for good. It was seven years before Endemol produced the first edition of Big Brother in the Netherlands, and we realised how real money could be made selling formats internationally.
Thursday was an important day for diversity in the media as the government announced a White Paper which enshrined diversity in the BBC charter– but what it really means in reality will all be in the small print.
The Royal Television Society is a charitable organization whose remit is to encourage and celebrate the understanding of television and its related fields. As Chair of the Diversity Committee here is my guide as to what people should be looking out for in the coming months:
A year ago two things happened within a few weeks of each other. As the Chair of the RTS Diversity Committee, the two events will forever be linked. The first is a good friend died, the second is the BBC's Director General Tony Hall made a speech about diversity.
Let me start by telling you about the first.