The only black faces at the BBC are in the canteen, says McGovern

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The Independent Online

The award-winning screenwriter Jimmy McGovern accused the BBC of institutional racism yesterday, saying the only black people working there were in low-pay jobs. Interviewed on BBC Radio Five Live, the creator of the popular crime drama Cracker criticised the corporation, telling the presenter, Simon Mayo: "I work quite a lot at the BBC. You see a lot of black faces in the BBC, but you see them in the canteen."

The Liverpool-born writer, whose BBC drama The Street won a Bafta award earlier this year, added that the BBC was "one of the most racist institutions in Britain". McGovern, 57, who has also written for the Channel 4 soap Brookside, continued: "You don't see [black people] in positions of power."

Within minutes of his comments, made during a live debate on racism, and Mayo's subsequent request for a response from the BBC, a spokesman came on air to defend the corporation, which has 26,000 staff in Britain. He said the BBC was constantly searching for new talent from ethnic minority groups but admitted there were challenges. "It is something we are always looking to improve on," he added.

Later, the BBC released an official statement, saying that an accurate reflection of viewers and listeners was the chief concern. "What really matters is that we reflect our audiences through our programmes," it said. "The BBC's ambition is to reflect the ethnic and social mix of people around the country and we are actively seeking and nurturing ethnic talents, both on and off-air."

The broadcaster then highlighted recent programmes it claimed had reflected this, with a list including Freema Agyeman, the Doctor Who actress whose mother is Iranian and father Ghanaian, the forthcoming show DanceX, featuring the British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili, and dramas such as Waterloo Road.

In a previous appearance on Five Live, McGovern has admitted to being racist himself as a young man. He said: "My history was white. I grew up a racist person and it has taken education and travel to make me realise that I was a fool. We grew up racists, but it was not my fault."

The latest accusation of racism comes after a bad patch for the BBC, which had to cancel all its phone-in competitions following a series of exposés. Blue Peter was fined £50,000 by the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom after producers asked a child visiting the studio to pose as a competition winner. An internal investigation also found that fake competitions were broadcast on Red Nose Day in March and during Sport Relief last year. A trailer for the documentary The Queen, which falsely implied that the monarch had stormed out of a Buckingham Palace photoshoot, marked the tip of the iceberg. A survey by the magazine PR Week last month showed that 83 per cent of people had lost trust in the corporation as a result of phone-in and competition scandals.

However, the BBC was not the only broadcaster to be caught out. In the past few months, both Channel 4 and ITV have come under fire for rigging televised competitions.

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