Watchdogs accuse soap operas of failing to portray Britain as a multicultural society

Television fails to reflect the multicultural nature of Britain, presenting ethnic minorities as two-dimensional characters, according to a report.

Television fails to reflect the multicultural nature of Britain, presenting ethnic minorities as two-dimensional characters, according to a report.

Soap operas such as Coronation Street and EastEnders are criticised in the report by the Broadcasting Standards Commission.

The commission noted that one episode of Coronation Street introduced a black character who was immediately seen committing a crime.

The BSC surveyed viewers and programme makers, none of whom was named in the report, but nearly all of whom believe there is room for improvement.

The report summarised the views of a number of respondents concerning the Indian family in EastEnders , saying: "Gita and Sanjay are Asians, but they don't show any religious ceremony, or relatives, and stuff like that ... What's the point of having ethnic minorities and not portray them in an honest way? So if they are going to have ethnic minorities like Gita and Sanjay, then they must show them as typical Asians as well."

However, another respondent praised The Bill for simply including an Asian policewoman. A number of television producers from ethnic minorities also complained that they were only ever asked to make programmes about their fragment of society.

The broadcaster Trevor Phillips emphasised this in the introduction to the report. He said that he was asked by a broadcaster to participate in a programme about race in politics because it considered him a single-issue politician.

"Apparently," he said, "600 current-affairs programmes about social, economic, political and foreign affairs did not qualify." He refused the invitation.

The report, carried out by the University of Leicester, concluded that minority audiences have a strong sense that their representation is two-dimensional, making a point rather than being integral to the plot, and that negative stereotyping is still evident.

However, a good many respondents welcomed the comedy series Goodness Gracious Me as one programme made by and starring a minority ethnic group, now scheduled in peak viewing time on a mainstream channel.

However, they could not name other examples so readily, although Channel 4 and BBC2 were seen as the stations which were more likely to represent minorities properly.

The BSC chairman, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said yesterday: "Broadcasters have an important role in overcoming prejudice, because of the educative role television can play.

"This report highlights concerns which need to be debated. Our society is changing rapidly and it is important for broadcasters to eliminate the lag between multicultural reality and the way everyday life is portrayed on television. There are challenges here which must not be ignored."

He praised the character of Mick Johnson in Brookside as a realistic "integrated" character. "He's not there as an issue, he's a person with a life and has friends from the wider community," he said.

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