Speech on BBC Diversity

Today in the House of Commons I led a debate on BBC Diversity.

I applied for this debate because I believe very strongly that our national public broadcaster should fully represent and reflect modern Britain accurately and authentically.

You can read my speech below:

Mr Speaker

I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me to bring this motion today, and also to my colleagues the Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the Member for East Renfrewshire for co-sponsoring this debate.

Over the course of the last few weeks I have met and spoken to many people – both black and white – who work in our creative industries. They do an extraordinary job, and our creative industries rightly have an envied international reputation. I am acutely aware that this is the first time in the history of the BBC that matters of diversity have been debated on the floor of this House.

But this is certainly not, however, a new issue. I must begin by acknowledging those who have called for many years for greater diversity in the arts, especially in television.

I salute the work my good friend Lenny Henry has done. Back in 2013 he called on me to help him as he began to think about the issues more deeply. In 2014 he laid out his plan for the BBC to set aside money for black Asian and minority ethnic shows.

Earlier this year Idris Elba came to Parliament and spoke of the “disconnect between the real world and the TV world”, and the even bigger gap “between people who make TV, and people who watch TV”.

I pay tribute to the Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, who is in his place. In his six years in post he has been a champion of diversity in the media. I absolutely agree with his comments on Channel 4 News last week that the current position on diversity across our broadcasters is unacceptable and that more progress is needed. He has taken our broadcasters and the wider arts and culture sector and held their feet to the fire. I am grateful to him for doing so. On this issue, there is very little between us.

Let me make it clear that diversity is not of course just about black and minority ethnic individuals; there is still significant work to be done to improve the representation within broadcasting and across our public life of women; of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals; and of people with disabilities. It is also right to say that class and social mobility play a role in representation across the BBC. I am quite sure that colleagues in the House are also concerned that, despite ​some progress, there is a north-south divide in England. There is still some way to go, particularly on the representation of the depth and range of voices across the north of this country.

Diversity is an issue across the whole media sector, not just in broadcasting and certainly not just within the BBC. From Fleet Street to Hollywood, there are clearly many more rivers to cross. City University’s latest survey, conducted just last month, found that British journalism as a whole is 94% white, and that there was not a single BAME face among the entire list of nominees for the 2016 Oscars. In 2006, representation of BAME people in the creative media industries stood at 7.4%; yet in 2012, the figure fell to 5.4%, and in television it fell from 9.9% to 7.5%, so it is going in the wrong direction.

Directors UK have said that the number of BAME directors working in UK TV is “critically low”. A sample of 55,000 episodes drawn from 546 titles found that only 1.29% of programmes were made by BAME directors. In some areas – period dramas, talk shows, panel shows and sketch shows, not a single episode had been made by a BAME director. This is just not good enough in 2016.

We are privileged in this country to enjoy so much great public service broadcasting. The BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, S4C, STV and UTV all fall under the public service broadcaster umbrella – operating for the public’s benefit rather than for purely commercial purposes – and taken together they account for over 70% of all TV that is watched in the UK.

We have gone beyond the point where we say, "the talent is not there. Can we do some training?" The talent exists. Can we now bring it forward and get the change that is required?

One of the central statutory responsibilities of Public Service Broadcasters, as outlined in the 2003 Communications Act, is to ensure that the diversity of the UK is reflected in their output - they must broadcast programmes that “reflect the lives and concerns of different communities within the UK”.

Ofcom have made it clear that all of our public service broadcasters must do more on diversity and the portrayal of under-represented groups.

Its latest research found that 26% of black viewers saw people from black ethnic groups on TV daily. Over half of black viewers feel both under-represented and unfairly portrayed across our public service broadcasters. Some 55% of viewers from a black ethnic group felt there were too few people from black ethnic groups on TV and 51% felt black and minority ethnic people people were shows negatively on TV.

But let me now turn specifically to the BBC.

Since its inception at Alexandra Palace in Haringey, my home borough, the BBC has time and again proved its worth as our national broadcaster in the quality, depth and breadth of its output. Its great progammes bring the nation together, its outstanding journalism brings stories to life and its online offering has seen the Beeb continue to flourish and serve its audience in the digital age.

Over the years, the BBC has also made significant strides in reflecting Britain’s increasing diversity.

In the 1964, it BBC made the ground-breaking documentary The Colony about West Indian immigrants living in Birmingham. In 1967 Rainbow City was the first drama series that saw a black man in the leading role. There was not a huge number of black actors on TV when I was growing up before Benny appeared on Grange Hill in 1978.

I remember Moira Stuart reading the news in 1981, the Tavernier family appearing on the set of EastEnders and Diane-Louise Jordan presenting Blue Peter for the first time as I made my way to university - not to mention great shows like Black Britain, the Lenny Henry Show, The Real McCoy and Goodness Gracious Me.

Seeing black faces on the BBC, the national broadcaster, has helped show Britain’s black community that they belong, that they are a part of the nation’s social fabric.

The BBC is the cornerstone of Public Service Broadcasting in our country. It is our most important cultural institution. Most of all, it is the recipient of huge amounts of public money – receiving £3.7 billion from license fee payers.

Tony Hall has himself admitted that while “this is a truly cross-industry” challenge “the BBC must take the lead” because of its unique funding and the responsibility to licence fee payers that comes with this funding.

Mr Speaker, let me state categorically: I am a friend of the BBC. I love its output, but today my remarks are strong because I think my friend is in trouble.

Too many people from ethnic minority backgrounds working in the organisation have contacted my office over the last few weeks to say that they can’t speak up because they don’t want to be labelled as a troublemaker. That is why I and so many colleagues are in this House to speak up on their behalf.

But I call for action today because for far too long the BBC has been saying ‘tomorrow’.

Between 1999 and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s enquiry into the future of the BBC back in 2014 the BBC ran 29 initiatives aimed at black and ethnic minorities but the situation is still not really improving.

In September 1999 they published a ‘statement of promises’, pledging to better reflect the UK’s diversity.

In 2000 they published a Cultural Diversity Action Plan, promising that the corporation would “reflect the UK’s diversity in our programmes, our services and workforce”.

They set up a new recruitment agency to reach out to “different communities”; a mentoring programme; a development scheme to “enable experienced minority ethnic staff to compete for senior positions within the BBC”.

In 2011 they published Everyone Has a Story - the BBC’s Diversity Strategy 2011-15, which outlined the BBC’s “determination to visibly increase our diversity on and off air” and 5 separate “strategic equality and diversity objectives”.

Diversity was outsourced to various divisions who were told to create “Divisional Diversity Action Plans” and “Diversity Action Groups”.

In 2014 Tony Hall unveiled another “action plan” to tackle on and off-air representation, stating that “we need to do more”.

He announced a senior leadership development programme for 6 talented people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and a Diversity Creative Talent Fund of £2.1m.

We heard last year, and we are hearing it again, that at the end of this month the BBC will publish an equality and diversity report. Yet another one is coming very shortly, and it is all going to be fixed—£3.7 billion! It will be another strategy to get our teeth sunk into, and we will fix this challenge. If the BBC is genuinely a universal broadcaster, we have to ask these questions. This can no longer be about skills training. The skills are there. This is about the institution and the change that is now required. That is why we brought this debate forward.

I am growing tired of strategies, of new approaches, of action plans, of initiatives, and press releases.

The net result of all of these strategies and initiatives is sadly very little. Despite the good intentions, rhetoric has not been matched by real progress. In 2011 the total proportion of the BBC’s workforce that was BAME was 12.2%.

Tracked against the progress of the 2011-15 strategy, we see modest rises to 12.3 in 2012, 12.4% in 2013, 12.6% in 2014 and an increase to 13.1% in 2015. In 4 years we have seen a 0.9% increase. In 2003 BAME employment was 10%, so in 12 years we have seen a 2.2% net increase.

That is still not reflected by an increase in management roles in the organisation. We can all go into Broadcasting House and see black staff in security and at the junior end, but when we walk into that newsroom and think about the editorial decisions that are being made, we must ask ourselves, “Is this really representative of our country as a whole?”

Everyone I have spoken to recognises that over the past two to three years, on-screen representation has improved significantly. There are areas of the BBC’s output that, frankly, are fantastic. I have young children, and children’s television is one of the areas that is really diverse. Anyone here who has teenagers or slightly older children who watch BBC Three’s output will know that it is really diverse. Documentary-making is another strong area. Last year, my constituency was portrayed in a documentary called “This Is Tottenham”, which showed the lives of people in that part of north London. However, in many areas, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

Let us take the headlines around the BBC’s new drama, “Undercover”, which people can see on BBC iPlayer at the moment. It is a great drama, but it was announced with great fanfare as, “The first time we’ve had a drama with two black leads.” In 2016? That was not news in the 20th century, let alone in this century.​

We must also ask questions about current affairs. I love sitting next to Andrew Neil on a Thursday night, when I occasionally stand in for my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). Andrew Marr is a great guy, as are John Humphrys and David Dimbleby—when they allow me on the show, which they have not for almost five years. But they are white, patrician men. What does that communicate about our country—that there cannot be a voice that is not a southern one? That there cannot be a woman? That there cannot be someone from a diverse background? Those men are the arbiters of current affairs in this country. We have to be brave and hold our public broadcaster to account. It cannot just appoint the same old faces from the same old schools to the same old jobs. That is not acceptable from a public broadcaster that takes licence fee money from all our constituents. We must hold it to account and say that yes, those individuals are brilliant, but more needs to be done to get that diversity across the spectrum.

A lot of this comes back to senior management, and with systemic change what really matters is who the decision makers are. As I have said, there has been a lot of focus on training schemes and apprenticeships to open up the industry, but we need to change the culture and practices that stop black, Asian and minority ethnic people rising to the top; it should not just be that new schemes are set up to encourage more people to get in from the bottom. Only one of the BBC Trust’s 16 trustees is from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. The executive directors are really important, as they are the controllers—the people who really govern the decisions on the executive board. Of the BBC’s eight executive directors, none is from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background, and only two are women.

My question to the BBC is simple: what will it take to see a black, Asian or minority ethnic channel controller? When will we get there, I wonder? What have we got to do to see a black commissioner in an important area—current affairs, or drama—in the BBC? Is our public broadcaster really saying that across the population of this great country there are no individuals from a BAME background who could take up those posts today? That is what it has to explain to us over the coming weeks as it heads towards its diversity strategy.

Change cannot be incremental any longer. I say that because if we treasure our public service broadcaster and the universality that it represents, I am afraid that in a multi-platform world, where people can turn to other services, that broadcaster is going to be in deep trouble if it does not step up pretty quickly.

In 2015, 9.2% of the BBC’s senior leadership were black, Asian and minority ethnic. Looking beneath the surface, in TV the percentage drops to 7.1%; in news, ​the figure for senior leaders who are BAME drops to 5.8%. The lack of diversity at management and senior levels creates a dangerous vicious circle. If those decision makers are not from diverse backgrounds, content and programming will lack fresh narratives and insight, and will not speak to the breadth of this country. When we have all the same people at the top, hiring people in their own image, the circle simply stays closed.

Let us look at targets.

The BBC has set itself a target of increasing representation in its workforce to 14.2% and increasing onscreen portrayal to 15%. As I have outlined, the track record does not fill me with absolute confidence that those targets will be met. The targets also fall short of those set by other broadcasters.

Take Sky, for example. It has said that all new TV shows in Sky Entertainment will have people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in at least 20% of significant onscreen roles. All original Sky Entertainment productions will have someone from a BAME background in at least one senior role, either producer, series producer, executive producer, director or head of production—my God, that is tall. It has also said that 20% of writers on all team-written shows across all Sky Entertainment productions will be from a BAME background. Looking at the statistics from January and February 2016, Sky has also made progress in current affairs and news: on “Sky News” 15% of interviewers were BAME; on “Murnaghan”, the figure was 17%; on “Sunrise” it was 22%; and it was 17% on “Ian King Live”.

Let us look at Channel 4’s targets in its “360° Diversity Charter”. One is that by 2020 20% of all Channel 4 staff will be BAME, a 33% increase from the 15% figure in 2015. Another is that of the top 120 people in the Channel 4 organisation—executive teams, heads of department and senior commissioning executives—15% will be from a BAME background, a big increase on the current figure of 8%.

Instead of being behind the curve, the BBC should be setting the gold standard. This issue does not affect only in-house teams. Broadcasters commission a lot of their work from independent production companies. The relationship between the BBC and those third-party suppliers is growing in importance, because the BBC is moving towards a new, more fluid production model, whereby BBC Studios will operate in the market and produce programmes for other broadcasters, and the BBC will allow independents to compete for more of the corporation’s commissioning spend.

If we look at the BBC’s editorial guidelines, which apply to all content made by a third party working for the BBC, we will see 19 separate subsections and eight appendices, but not one is specifically related to diversity ​and representation. Nudity, violence, the watershed, the right of reply, privacy, religion, editorial integrity and conflicts of interest are all covered specifically and in great detail, but there is not a single section on diversity. In a 228-page document, there is not even a mention of the 14.2% target that the BBC is setting for itself internally. In section 4, on impartiality, production companies sign up to providing a breadth and diversity of opinion, but they do not sign up to any diversity in terms of equality and representation.

The BBC’s latest Equality and Diversity report, published in 2015, made this promise: “we will be clear with our suppliers about our diversity requirements so that they are able to deliver on them”.

To find out just how clear the BBC are with their suppliers when it comes to diversity I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking to see the agreements that BBC makes with suppliers commissioned to work on just one show – Question Time.

I was told that the information would not be supplied to me because it is “held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature”.

Although the BBC is promising to be clear with its suppliers about diversity requirements, it is altogether less clear with its audience and those that pay the license fee about what exactly these diversity requirements are.

Although the BBC is promising to be clear with its suppliers about diversity requirements, it is altogether less clear with its audience and those who pay the licence fee about what exactly those diversity requirements are. I therefore ask the Minister to look at the freedom of information rules that are enabling the BBC to be less than wholly transparent on these issues. I am sure that he, and all Members here today, would agree that a publicly funded body must adhere to the highest standards of openness. Over 50% of the FOI requests put to that organisation are denied. That cannot be right.

By comparison, Channel 4’s Diversity Commissioning Guidelines cover both on and off-screen diversity, and all commissions have to adhere to one guideline in each section, for example:

At least one lead character must be black or minority ethnic, disabled or LGBT

At least one of the senior off-screen roles (ie Executive Producer, Director, Series Editor, Executive Producer) for all factual and scripted programmes must be from an ethnic minority or have a disability

At least 15% of the entire production team or crew of a factual or scripted programme must be from an ethnic minority or have a disability

Channel 4’s expectations seem to me to be altogether much clearer, meaning that production companies know exactly what is expected of them.

Trevor Phillips presented research to the Oxford Media Convention last month showing that in 2015, BBC1 had a 21.9% audience share, but only 13.3% of BAME audience share. BBC 2’s 5.7% share of the total audience falls to 3.3%.

Almost 30% of the UK watches the BBC Six o’clock news – but ‘The Six’ only gets 15.1% of the BAME audience. For BBC Ten o’clock news it is 21.3 and 16.7%. By comparison Channel 4 News has 3.2% share but 5.6% of BAME.

Because the BBC is failing in its duty to reflect modern Britain, ethnic minorities are well within their rights to ask why they should continue to pay their license fee at all, given that it is used to fund a service that does not serve them.

The BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky have come together to create a diversity monitoring scheme to provide detailed, consistent and comparative data on diversity, which will be go live imminently. Project DIAMOND is a ground-breaking project that will shine a light on the industry, and provide independent data to show where we are with diversity in broadcasting so that we can make comparisons. Its monitoring and transparency will be clear, which I welcome, and I am sure the Minister will say more about that.

The current BBC Charter runs to the end of this year, so renewal provides a vital opportunity to drive real change if the BBC wants to be serious about being a leader in delivering diversity.

I believe that diversity requirements should be stated clearly in the new Charter as one of the BBC’s Public Purposes – a core value at the heart of what the BBC does.

We need something stronger, more ambitious and—importantly—more tangible than the current requirement for it to represent the UK, its nations and communities, which is frankly too woolly. I call on the Minister to assure the House that diversity will be front and centre of new ongoing debates about the BBC charter.

A new public purpose should be written in to the new BBC Charter, including a specific commitment to accurately reflect the diversity of the UK in its on-screen and off-screen workforce and in its programming, including but not limited to promoting equal opportunities irrespective of age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation an or gender reassignment.

It is time to update the BBC’s founding mission for the 21st Century so that it becomes “to inform, educate, entertain” and “reflect”, and a writing diversity into the heart of the Charter would be a bold first step.

If we are to have another strategy at the end of this month and more initiatives, the BBC must propose specific actions to secure progress each year, together with details of how that progress will be measured objectively. To be taken seriously, we need answers to the questions of “how?” and “when?” Money talks, and it is money alone that will drive real change.

We have hard evidence of what works when it comes to addressing under-representation.

The BBC had a problem when it came to representing the nations and regions, so it did something about it that involved a dedicated pot of money.

They didn’t rely on mentorship or apprenticeship schemes. There was structural change.

Since 2003 there has been a 400% increase in the number of network programmes produced in the English regions. As of this year, half of network spend will be outside the M25and the amount of spend in Scotland and Wales has matched or exceeded the size of the population since 2014.

I absolutely agree with that direction. I was a culture Minister at that time, and there were real concerns in Scotland because it paid 9% of the licence fee and had none of the programming. That has changed in recent times, although I am sure there is more to do.

The BBC's core purpose is to represent the UK’s nation’s nations, regions and communities. It seems to have got there or beyond for the first two, but what about BAME communities?

I am sure that moving production spend out of London has not led to more employment for people of Chinese heritage in Liverpool, of Somalian ​heritage in Cardiff, or of Pakistani heritage in Glasgow. A focus on improving the representation of nations and regions has also seen areas with high concentrations of BAME people—such as Birmingham and London—lose out.

We need something similar to act as a counterbalance, and if that is not in this next strategy, it will have failed. The holistic approach has not worked. After 15 years of focusing on people, skills and mentoring, it has not delivered the step change that we need in the institution.

This is a seminal moment for the BBC and its position as our national broadcaster and it must rise to the challenge.

It’s not enough to have a Director General making the right noises. The will is clearly there, but the BBC is a big institution, and it’s going to take more than good intentions to turn such a huge tanker round. We can’t rely on individuals pushing the agenda – what we need to see is real, systemic change.

Charter renewal is around the corner. We have reached a point of fragmentation in the TV industry where more content is available than ever before and viewers are consuming it online, and watching it on demand and through Netflix and Amazon Prime. They are challenging the BBC’s position at the centre of our national conversation. That national conversation is hugely important, especially when things go wrong and we see something awful. I was culture Minister in 2005 when there were those terrible bombs in London, and we looked to the BBC for that national conversation.

Let us get it right. We cannot have people from BAME backgrounds turning to mother-tongue cable stations because they do not see themselves represented on the BBC. Take the Chinese community in this country. My God, it has been here for more than 100 years—talk about invisible! That community is not just invisible in this House—I recognise that the Government have made some progress on their Benches—but it is totally invisible among our broadcasters. I secured this debate because it is time for change, and I welcome the leadership shown by the Minister, and the fact that so many people have gathered across the House to debate these issues this afternoon.

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