Race in the media: Our fight for equality

The BBC takes equal opportunities seriously, says Bob Nelson
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The Independent Culture
The BBC is one of the more successful media organisations at employing and retaining ethnic staff. At the Corporation we believe we are "nearly there". We strongly support equal opportunity practices for gender, religion and disability as well as race, and the BBC employs more ethnic minorities within its news operations proportionately than Channel 4 or the ITV companies. We have made great strides over recent years by increasing the proportion of black staff employed in senior positions.

The BBC is also a champion of the Leadership Challenge and is represented on the steering group for Race for Opportunity.

We believe that representing all sectors of the communities in the United Kingdom is at the core of public service broadcasting. This applies to the representation of ethnic minorities on air, the accuracy and balance of news coverage, as well as the composition of the Corporation's staff. The BBC recognises that its workforce should "reflect the nations, regions and communities it serves". The BBC is carrying this belief forward for the new millennium. One Statement of Promises to Viewers and Listeners for 1998/99 is "to focus on our obligation to represent all groups in society accurately, and to avoid reinforcing prejudice".

In 1990, the BBC set its first target, aiming to have 8 per cent of its overall workforce from ethnic minorities by the year 2000. Projections for the 2001 Census state that approximately 7-8.5 per cent of the total UK population will be ethnic minorities. BBC Regions also set targets at the same time, seeking to reflect the specific characteristics of the local communities they serve.

There are also training schemes, policies and positive action initiatives. One initiative has been the Asian and Afro-Caribbean Reporters Trust. It was created by the BBC in 1989 with the specific aim of increasing the number of Afro-Caribbean and Asian journalists. Some of its first graduates are now reporting for the Six and the Nine O'Clock News. In 1996/97, the BBC spent pounds 2.5m on diversity issues, including gender, age and disability as well as race.

The BBC is committed to developing its workforce irrespective of their ethnic origin, but operates a number of schemes for ethnic staff, in addition to the general training available. The BBC operates a mentoring system for ethnic staff, which has the specific aim of encouraging Afro-Caribbean members of staff to develop into more senior roles. As part of its ongoing development of staff, managers are offered training in racial awareness. The BBC will also look again at its targets when the 2001 Census is published.

The writer is the BBC's Head of Organisation and Management Development

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