Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Broadcasters need to break out of the ghetto

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The Independent Online

As a British Asian journalist, and one who is avowedly Muslim, I am well used to the fake fury and rage cynically activated by "representatives" of various religious and ethnic interest groups when they don't like what I have written or said.

I could fill a mattress with the cards and letters that have accumulated, accusing me of maligning Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. You ignore the babble and carry on with integrity. Not the BBC, which appears to have capitulated to some Sikh loudmouths who complained that one of the daily presenters, Adil Ray, (a Muslim) insulted their faith on a programme. It took the show off its website, thus encouraging the next lot of obscurantists.

The row makes one question the concept of digital "ethnic" programming, started up by Greg Dyke, as an answer to his own grumble that the BBC was "hideously white". Black and Asian musical and talk ghettos, he thought, great idea. Only to a powerful white bloke perhaps.

Some of the best of British broadcasters are on the Asian Network – Nihal, Sonia Deol, Nikki Bedi – their programmes are as full of vitality and erudition as those presented by Nicky Campbell and Victoria Derbyshire. Nihal is also on Radio 1 and his shows are exceptional because he pulls in all the strands of his cultural life. On the whole, though, mainstream BBC radio is still too white, even though the brilliant Anita Anand (5 Live, Drive), Ritula Shah ( Radio 4, The World Tonight) and others have proved they can lead on national conversations using their complex identities to great effect. At a time when Bollywood is now mainstream and third generation Asians are part of the nation's DNA, we should think again about the cheap facility offered by Dyke and his successors.

Witnessing this latest spat, you wonder if it was not just a continuation of the divide and rule policies that served Britannia in the days of the Raj. Lock them in a studio, get the natives to fight each other, then they won't come bothering those of us born to rule the airwaves.