Multicultural society is not reflected on British TV, say watchdogs

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The Independent Online
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, "six hundred 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. But 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.

t Television journalist Kirsty Wark was among industry figures honoured yesterday at the Carlton Women in Film and Television Awards.

Known for her work on Newsnight and One Foot In The Past, she was presented with the News and Current Affairs prize at the ceremony in London's Dorchester Hotel. Other winners included 89-year-old Esther Harris, who took the Lifetime Achievement Award for a career creating trailers for hundreds of classic British films.

Between 1946 and 1975 Miss Harris worked with figures such as Lord Attenborough, Sir David Lean and Bond producer Cubby Broccoli.

"I can't imagine who unearthed me after all these years, but it is a great honour to receive this award - the first in my career," she said.

Awards went to Nicola Shindler, who produced Queer As Folk and Love In The 21st Century for Channel 4; Dawn Airey, Channel 5's director of programmes and Beryl Vertue, producer of Men Behaving Badly and Wonderful You.

Other award winners were: Nina Kellgren (director of photography on The Echo and Beyond Fear); Mary Selway (casting director for Onegin, Notting Hill and Out Of Africa; andRachel Neale (location manager for Fierce Creatures and Tom & Viv).