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?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?