Lenny Henry vows to lead campaign for greater diversity on British television

 

Media Editor

Lenny Henry has announced his plans to lead the public in a mass protest of Parliament at the lack of diversity in British television amid wider calls for a general boycott of the BBC licence fee.

Mr Henry, who has been campaigning for six years for better representation of black and ethnic minority (BAME) people on TV, issued his “call to arms” as he revealed that he has been having private talks with ministers and senior broadcasting figures to address the issue.

Calling on the general public to join his campaign, he said: “There will be a call to arms. Nothing happens without conflict and this is our time to stop moaning to ourselves and to take the argument public.”

The comedian and actor said he had held talks with Ed Vaizey, the Culture minister, and senior broadcasting figures including Lord Hall, the BBC Director General and Peter Fincham, chief executive of ITV, and was hopeful change was imminent. The diversity issue is to be discussed at a key meeting convened by Mr Vaizey for around 50 TV industry figures, including Mr Henry, which is being brought forward to reflect the importance of the matter.

But Mr Henry said he wanted the viewing public to put pressure on politicians to force the pace of change. “All of those people in the audience who watch those shows and complain that there aren’t enough black and Asian (people), and gay and women and people with disabilities and transgender…they need to start lobbying, to start writing letters, they need to start emailing,” he said in an interview with the influential broadcast industry group The TV Collective.

“At some point soon there’s going to be a campaign and we want everybody to get behind it, write letters to parliament, write letters to government, write letters to your MP and say we think it’s time there was a change.”

Mr Henry argues that black and ethnic minority people should be treated by the British TV sector in a similar way to regional minorities such as the Scots and Welsh and given ring-fenced funding for specialist programming.

Simone Pennant, founder of the TV Collective, which has many black and Asian TV workers among its membership, said that if no progress was made on the Henry Plan to improve representation of BAME people in TV, both on and off screen, then those communities should consider boycotting the BBC’s licence fee, if it becomes decriminalised.

She said: “You cannot continue to invest in something you don’t get anything back from. If there’s not something on the table after those talks and Lenny Henry’s paper has not been acted on, the stance we would be taking is to launch a campaign to start boycotting the licence fee. The question is ‘Are we getting value for money?’ – maybe it’s time we stopped paying the licence fee.”

The BBC is already deeply concerned about the financial implications of the proposed decriminalisation of the licence fee, a measure which has cross-party support but is subject to a review.

If groups within the BBC’s audience decide to boycott payment over lack of representation, the broadcaster could face a crisis in funding. “The issue of ethnic diversity is a really hot one in broadcasting at the moment,” said Tim Dams, editor of Televisual magazine. “If the licence fee is decriminalised then the BBC is going to have to work harder to ensure that it does represent every single kind of person, faith and group in the UK to make sure they and their lifestyles are reflected.”

Mr Henry, who made a passionate speech on improving diversity in television at Bafta last month, said he wasn’t advocating non-payment of the licence fee. But he said “it’s a move isn’t it?” and that it was the “prerogative” of individuals to consider such action. “There’s a degree of black and Asian eyeballs that are moving away from terrestrial television. Broadcasters should be worried about that.”

He also said he had been encouraged by his talks with Mr Vaizey and senior broadcast figures and a meeting on the subject planned for July had been fast tracked. “When I met Tony Hall at the BBC he said ‘Let’s talk at the end of April’,” he said. “Tony Hall wants to be seen as leading from the front and the BBC needs to lead from the front because they’re the main game in town. If the BBC decide they are going to do something everybody’s going to follow.”

Last night Mr Vaizey told The Independent: “More must be done to improve the numbers of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds working in film, TV and the arts. Industry leaders need to be more accountable for driving up the numbers employed in their sectors. I met with leading figures from the industry in January to facilitate a discussion on what can be done to break down the barriers that still exist. I look forward to hosting a follow-up roundtable before the summer to see what progress has been made.”

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'