BBC tries to vault the ghetto walls with black news

Decca Aitkenhead on a new TV series born of years of failure

The first programme by BBC news and current affairs for black people will be broadcast this week, and audience response to a trial showing reveals the scale of the task.

The trial audience (of blacks) for Black Britain was shown a clip of people discussing over dinner the demise of West Indies cricket, following the side's defeat by Kenya. Then they gave their reactions.

"Why focus on another 'black problem'?" ... "Why are black programmes always about sport?" ... "It's good to see them eating West Indian food" ... "Why not show them eating McDonald's?" ... "Why aren't they discussing the rise of cricket in Africa instead?" And why, a white newspaper columnist demanded subsequently, did we need more "cringe-making" ghetto TV anyway?

When Black Britain goes on air on Tuesday, its makers hope to confound the prejudices surrounding minority TV.

Research 18 months ago revealed that the corporation had comprehensively failed to reach black audiences; its multi-cultural programming unit in Birmingham was duly disbanded, and Black Britain was commissioned in the department which produces heavyweight programmes such as Panorama.

The eight-week series of half-hour magazine shows will tackle both serious and lighter subjects - about black issues as well as "mainstream" stories from a black perspective - fronted by Rianna Scipio, TV's first black weather presenter.

But the series producer, Patrick Younge, insists it will not be "a branch of social services, nor a case of happy broadcasting".

Minority programming - ethnic, sexual or other - has always laboured under the worthy constraints of these options.

After years of painfully po-faced shows such as Ebony, Channel 4 has tried to break the trend with Baadass TV, a "hoes 'n' niggaz" trash-fest low on political correctness but liberal with "nigga attitude".

Some critics saw it as a stereotyped freak show, but Patrick Younge is reluctant to criticise. "The real trouble is that it's the only black programme on TV. It does what it does well - if it was part of a whole spectrum of shows, people wouldn't have a problem with it."

Black Britain bears little resemblance to Baadass. Stories will cover the growing trend for black parents to send their children back to the Caribbean for schooling, the shortage of black sperm donors, and the Americanisation of Jamaican culture - blended with lighter topics. Traditional black interest areas - sport, the arts and entertainments - will feature only as part of solid news stories.

Its target audience is the "21-plus thinking person" - probably, but not necessarily, black. "People like my in-laws, who suddenly find themselves related to a black person, want something which will help them understand where we are coming from," said Mr Younge.

Most of the 20 staff working on Black Britain are black. "A lot of senior black programme-makers see the BBC as like the civil service - a white, middle-class organisation they don't want to compromise themselves by working for," said Mr Younge.

"But we've taken on black presenters, reporters and researchers who feel loved here. They are working on something they feel is important, and later they'll move on to other areas of the BBC, back to black programming again - and that's what the BBC needs."

Rianna Scipio, the presenter experienced in both black and mainstream broadcasting, declared herself "staggered" by the quality of Black Britain. "But obviously, I have to hope that one day there won't be any need for programmes like this. Sadly, that's still a way off."

Will specialist programmes like Black Britain bring that day forward?

"Black people's biggest concern isn't about programmes like this," Mr Younge conceded. "It's their representation - or lack of - on mainstream programming ... game shows, EastEnders and so on."

Why, then, are black journalists like him not fighting to raise black people's profile in mainstream programming? Is Black Britain guilty of ghetto TV?

"We'll never please everyone. The key measure of success has to be our impact on the main news agenda," said Mr Younge.

"Stories we're running are already being picked up by others in the media - if we can keep on doing that, we'll have made a real change.

"A ghetto is somewhere people have to live or work because nobody will let you live or work elsewhere. We've chosen to work on black programmes.

"This isn't ghetto broadcasting - it's classic public service broadcasting."

'Black Britain' starts on Tuesday on BBC2 at 7.30pm.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected