No non-white youth in recruitment film about BBC

Exclusive: The package includes a 16-minute public presentation made last month by the controller of Radio 5 Live, Jonathan Wall in which he makes no reference to the BAME audience and includes no non-white people in a video used to demonstrate the station’s ambitions

Ian Burrell
Media Editor
Friday 09 October 2015 17:42
Behind the scenes at the BBC Newsnight
Behind the scenes at the BBC Newsnight

A film made to help recruit young talent into the media has been used as part of a damning package of evidence attacking the BBC’s record on diversity, thanks to it revealing a wholly white team working behind the scenes at Newsnight.

The 11-minute film made by the Royal Television Society (RTS) last December features staff of the flagship BBC2 show ranging from the presenter Evan Davis and editor Ian Katz to the producers, those attending editorial meetings, those in the production suite, the floor manager and the lighting director. All those featured are white.

In its submission to the Green Paper, the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality notes that the film “to provide information for young entrants into the television and media industry shows not one single BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) person in the entire production team or visible in any role”.

The package, seen by The Independent, also includes a 16-minute public presentation made last month by the controller of Radio 5 Live, Jonathan Wall, titled Where Next for Radio 5 Live? in which he makes no reference to the BAME audience and includes no non-white people in a video used to demonstrate the station’s ambitions. The video emphasises the network’s broad reach - “whether it's Cardiff, whether it's Grimsby, whether it's Dewsbury” - and carries the comment: “It’s important that the BBC actually reflects what’s happening around the country.”

Although that the entire staffs of Newsnight and Radio 5 Live are not exclusively white, the campaign’s long submission suggests limited progress has been made since former Director General Greg Dyke described the BBC as “hideously white” in 2001.

The report coincides with the corporation’s own “British Bold Creative” contribution to the Green Paper 9 October, in which it portrays itself as a universal broadcaster providing a service to licence fee payers of all backgrounds.

The author of the report, Simon Albury, a former RTS chief executive and the chair of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality, writes: “The BAME population is under-represented in terms of BBC employment, it is underserved as viewers and the BBC response has not been proportionate to the scale of the problem.”

Statements made by a succession of black and minority ethnic contributors to BBC programmes are included in the submission and suggest the BBC’s much-vaunted diversity policies have had limited effect. Attending an event in her honour at the BBC Radio Theatre in London in February last year, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, complained that there were no people of minority ethnic background among the BBC production staff.

The African-American comedian Reginald D Hunter presented a three-part BBC2 series Songs of the South, on the racially-charged musical heritage of the Deep South, and later included the faux pas of his all-white BBC crew in his comedy act. “His recollection of shooting his recent music documentary in his homeland is hilarious for the scrapes and confusion that his well-meaning exclusively white BBC crew accidentally visited upon him,” reported The Scotsman in a review of his act in June.

Reginald D Hunter commented on his all white crew on a BBC project

Experienced journalist Jasmine Dotiwala, who was approached in August to be a contributor on a Newsnight story about Straight Outta Compton, the film biopic of rap group NWA, wrote of her experience on the Huffington Post website. “The BBC have the biggest newsroom in Europe but not one TV researcher that could find a decent speaker to represent black pop culture…within its walls,” she wrote, recalling how she had been stood down in favour of two young rappers. “Would they have the same level of pundits if, say, they were making a feature about the historical biopic about The Smiths, or even the Spice Girls?” she asked.

The submission also cites recent reports that more black and minority ethnic staff resigned from the BBC in 2014 than in any year since 2009. It compares the BBC’s diversity policies unfavourably to BSkyB which the report says “has demonstrated much greater urgency” in addressing the subject.

It also highlights the difficulties of young black media graduates in finding work at the BBC and quotes Yvonne Thompson, a marketing executive and President of the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners, saying the applicants should use an “English” name. “Camilla Hughes, Camilla Winterbottom. Jonty is very popular. See if you get a phone call back.”

It also quotes senior industry figure Sir Peter Bazalgette, the president of the RTS, who gave evidence to the House of Lords in July saying “when you are phoned by a researcher from the [BBC Radio 4] Today programme they are called Piers or Jemima”.

The submission includes a satirical film made this year by the comedian Harry Enfield in which he taunted the British television industry for being a place where a South African supporter of apartheid would feel comfortable working. Enfield’s character, “Hannes”, urges TV executives to “keep up the good work you have been doing for the last 30 years in keeping our industry white”.

The BBC has recruited six people from BAME backgrounds for its “Senior Leadership Development Programme” to get experience at the very top of the BBC alongside Director-General Tony Hall.

“We want an open and diverse BBC which is why we have an ambitious range of plans which we believe will make a real difference on and off air,” said a BBC spokesperson. “Internally the percentage of both staff and senior managers from a BAME background increased last year, whilst on air BBC One remains the UK’s most popular channel across all BAME audiences. By 2017 we aim to increase BAME portrayal on air from 10.4% to 15%. We are working with groups such as MAMA Youth Project, [and the] Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, in order to help improve our diversity record.”

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