The Media Column: 'Terrestrial TV either ignores Asians or casts them in stereotypical roles'

Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan doesn't exactly trip off the tongue at the best of times, much less when one is asked to name a BBC programme of historic cultural importance.

Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan doesn't exactly trip off the tongue at the best of times, much less when one is asked to name a BBC programme of historic cultural importance. Roughly translated as "new life, new world", the show - a mix of discussion and features - ran on BBC1 for 15 years. It always finished with a sing-song.

Most readers, I'm pretty sure, will have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. But for Asian Britons of a certain age, the show represented a breakthrough moment in British popular culture.

In Indian and Pakistani households, between 1969 and 1984, they would rise early on Sunday mornings to watch Ashok Rampal and company introducing such news as the opening of a branch of the Bank of India in Leicester, and to hear music from Lakshmi Shankar. Even once-avid viewers now admit that the show was "incredibly boring", but the point was that it represented what one Asian professional described as "brown person on television alert".

These days, of course, Asian viewers have such "diary dates" as Parminder Nagra ( below), of Bend It Like Beckham fame, appearing in ER, and hit comedies such as The Kumars at No 42. But two surveys out this week offer telling lessons for all media organisations seeking to be relevant to British Asians. One survey of Asian viewers, by the market research company Ethnic Focus, suggests that a polarisation is taking place, with Asian households turning away from British TV channels in favour of the 25 Asian services now available.

Be warned: this poll was carried out on behalf of Sky Digital, which of course has a vested interest in highlighting the attractiveness of satellite channels. But 58 per cent of Asian homes now have more than the terrestrial channels, compared to 53 per cent of the general population.

Anjna Raheja, the managing director of Media Moguls, which represents Sky, argues that Asian families are turning to satellite television partly because older generations want access to Indian channels such as Zee, Pakistani stations such as Prime and ARY and sports channels featuring cricket from the sub-continent.

She acknowledges the quality of dramas such as the BBC's adaptation of Chaucer's The Sea Captain's Tale (from The Canterbury Tales), starring Om Puri and Nitin Ganandra, and Channel 4's Second Generation, starring Nagra and Sam Khan. But she claims the terrestrial broadcasters either ignore Asians or cast them in stereotypical roles (witness the Ferreira family of stallholders in EastEnders, who replaced the Kapoors).

According to the Ethnic Focus survey, most respondents thought the only recognisable Asians on British television were the three newsreaders George Alagiah (BBC), Krishnan Guru-Murthy (Channel 4) and Lisa Aziz (Sky), and the comedy stars Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar.

But the idea that Asians are turning their backs on the British media doesn't seem to apply to the middle classes. A study by the lawyer Rehna Azim, based on interviews with 300 Asian professionals living in the UK and 700 respondents to her website www.britainsasianassets.com, concluded that "Asian professionals rely almost entirely on the mainstream media for information, news and entertainment". Azim said: "Not one person in the 1,000 used the Asian media for anything more than the odd Bollywood film."

Asian professionals commented positively on the British quality press. The report noted: "The highest praise in the press section was for the Financial Times and The Independent. They were seen as fair and unbiased. If the relationship with The Times and The Guardian was like a long-standing comfortable marriage, that with the FT and Independent was definitely like a passionate affair." The tabloids were regarded with disdain, notably the papers with the hardest lines on immigration issues, such as The Sun and the Daily Express. But the report found that the Daily Mail was most disliked of all because, "unlike The Sun or Daily Express, it is seen as a paper that has an impact on a large number of people because it is taken seriously by its readers". Radio 4's Today programme was the "runaway" star turn in its medium, while The Economist was the most-lauded magazine.

When it came to a big, breaking new story, Asian professionals turned not to Zee or al-Jazeera but to the BBC for "honourable, fair, unbiased, quality journalism".

Yet hold on just a minute. Even among such committed followers of the British media as these, there was unhappiness that crude stereotyping was never far away.

"The common complaint," the study said, "was that the media divided Asians into two camps; either miserable folk being forced into loveless marriages or billionaires who had come to Britain with nothing and had now made a fortune."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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 Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate Start - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders