Channel 4's diversity quotas read like a comedy script

The image of Clare Balding and Ade Adepitan presumably gets four ticks for one photo

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The Independent Online

It is a measure of a good satire that real life starts to resemble it, which perhaps explains why so many communications from broadcasters now sound like the BBC comedy W1A. Last week, Channel 4 launched its new diversity strategy, which at first glance seems to have been compiled by a Head of Values, thinking Big Thoughts.

The 360° Diversity Charter “puts diversity at the heart of decision making”, it says, partly by providing quotas for the proportions of women, people with disabilities, Bame (black and minority ethnic) and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) employees it wants to see, on- and off-screen. The channel sets out its targets for 2020: 20 per cent Bame staff (it’s 15 per cent now); a 50/50 gender split (currently 57 per cent women); and  6 per cent each of LGBT employees and people with disabilities (now 2.4 and 1.9 per cent, respectively).

Admirably, Channel 4 has plans for achieving those targets. Unfortunately, as it admits in a carefully worded, 19-page document: “it’s complicated”. It certainly seems to have baffled some critics. If we ask organisations to represent men and women equally, said one, “logic dictates that [they] must also include similarly proportionate numbers of convicted criminals, sexual deviants and the functionally illiterate.” Er, no it doesn’t.

However, providing a representative sample of the UK population really is complicated. According to the guidelines, “scripted programmes” should ensure that “at least one of the lead characters is either from an ethnic minority background or has a disability or is LGBT, OR at least 50 per cent of the lead characters are female”. That one is relatively easy: they can all be white men as long as one is gay.

Meanwhile, off-screen, “factual programmes” must have one senior creator who is Bame or disabled, whereas “scripted programmes” can get away with having at least two women instead, but “entertainment programmes” need both. LGBT people count for a tick in on-screen roles but not off-screen ones. There are plans to encourage candidates from “socially disadvantaged backgrounds” and “the north of England”, but no targets about state schools, older people, redheads, Welsh-speakers, Devonians… nor any rule that programmes must contain at least one man. Helpfully, the document displays images of Channel 4 stars, including one of Clare Balding and Ade Adepitan that presumably counts for four ticks in one photo. But Clare Balding can’t be in everything!

Poor Channel 4, it can’t really win, but hats off for trying. If nobody bothered, we could end up with the entire country represented on television, in government (and yes, in the press), only by heterosexual white men, and wouldn’t that be silly? It’s also good news for the Greens and SNP: those party leaders’ debates need some ticks in the female box, at the very least.