Actor and comedian Sir Lenny Henry has warned that proposed diversity targets for the BBC will lead to ‘fake diversity’ because they do not take into account off air production staff.
In a keynote address at Westminster’s Portcullis House he called on Ofcom, the BBC’s regulator since April, to set targets for off screen diversity as well as on screen talent.
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“It’s all very well to keep on saying, “Look, this show has a mixed raced family, or an Asian antagonist or a gay second lead. That’s great, but who was the commissioner, the producer, the script editor, the head of casting, the cinematographer, the director?“ said Henry at Tuesday’s public meeting attended by cross party MPs including Minister for Digital Matt Hancock, David Lammy and Helen Grant.
An Ofcom public consultation on new BBC performance measures ended on Monday. Campaigners are not only calling for off-screen diversity targets, but for BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) employment to be an enforceable regulatory performance measure rather than a target.
“What gets measured, gets done,” said the actor, who suggested one way of tackling the problem was to ring fence money for diverse programming. “This is a fight over who is and who isn’t considered British. Whose voices do and do not matter.”
The number of BAME people employed behind the camera was in crisis and it was also a question of hard economics in an industry where original content creation was key.
“If British television is to maintain its position in an increasingly competitive international market place, then diversity behind the camera is essential.”
Sir Lenny said that the BBC’s stated 14.5 per cent BAME workforce was probably nearer nine per cent if you only included those involved directly in programme making. He said the BBC figures included significant numbers of non-production staff and also staff employed in the World Service, producing programmes not aimed at a British audience.
The broadcaster also did not keep diversity figures for programmes produced by the independent production companies who make over 50 per cent of the BBC programmes. So the true figure for BAME workers involved in programme production was unknown.
Sir Lenny claimed that the problem was not confined to one broadcaster. Across the industry off screen diversity levels were a ‘dirty secret’. He quoted a 2014 study by Directors UK which found in the previous year no chat shows, game shows, period drama, panel shows or reality shows had been directed by BAME directors.