Of­com takes aim at BBC’s di­ver­sity fail­ure

Cor­po­ra­tion told it should lead way for broadcasters Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women and BAME peo­ple ‘woeful’

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Gra­ham Rud­dick Ge­orge Ala­giah, one of the BBC’s high­est paid stars from a BAME back­ground, earns a frac­tion of what Chris Evans is paid

Of­com has crit­i­cised Bri­tish broadcasters for a “woeful” lack of di­ver­sity among their staff and ac­cused the BBC of fail­ing to lead the way.

Women, mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups and dis­abled peo­ple are all un­der­rep­re­sented by broadcasters, a re­port by the me­dia reg­u­la­tor has found. This lack of di­ver­sity is cre­at­ing a “cul­tural dis­con­nect” be­tween pro­gramme-mak­ers and view­ers, with older peo­ple and peo­ple from a black, Asian or mi­nor­ity eth­nic (BAME) back­ground feel­ing they are por­trayed neg­a­tively.

The com­ments echo a warn­ing by Jon Snow, the Chan­nel 4 news­reader, that the deadly Grenfell Tower fire demon­strated that the me­dia had be­come too far re­moved from or­di­nary peo­ple’s lives and should have been more aware about the dan­gers of the high-rise block.

Sharon White, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Of­com, said: “The in­for­ma­tion we have is shock­ing. There is some woeful progress, es­pe­cially for se­nior women, dis­abled peo­ple, and peo­ple from a black, Asian and mi­nor­ity eth­nic back­ground.”

Women make up 51% of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion but hold only 39% of se­nior roles at the five ma­jor broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Chan­nel 4, Sky and Vi­a­com, the owner of Chan­nel 5. In to­tal 48% of the work­force at these broadcasters are fe­male.

Broadcasters are also un­der­per­form­ing on BAME em­ploy­ees, who ac­count for 12% of work­ers com­pared with 14% of the pop­u­la­tion, and dis­abled peo­ple, who make up just 3% of the work­force de­spite ac­count­ing for 18% of the pop­u­la­tion. BBC is the UK’s na­tional broad­caster. What­ever the BBC does has a huge im­pact on the rest of the in­dus­try. We would want the BBC to lead the way rather than in the mid­dle of the pack”

The lack of di­ver­sity at the BBC has been in­creas­ingly con­tro­ver­sial. Its list of top earn­ers re­vealed that just a third were women and that the 10 high­est-paid stars from a BAME back­ground – in­clud­ing the DJ Trevor Nelson, the news­reader Ge­orge Ala­giah and the sports pre­sen­ter Ja­son Mo­ham­mad – were col­lec­tively paid only about the same as Chris Evans last year.

Sir Lenny Henry, the ac­tor and co­me­dian, has led calls for Of­com to force the BBC to in­crease the di­ver­sity of its work­force by set­ting quo­tas for on-screen and off-screen staff.

White said she was in “ab­so­lute agree­ment” with Henry that the BBC should have chal­leng­ing work­force tar­gets but that Of­com was con­sid­er­ing whether set­ting these quo­tas was a re­spon­si­bil­ity for the reg­u­la­tor or the broad­caster, with a de­ci­sion due in the au­tumn.

As part of this, Of­com is con­sid­er­ing whether the BBC’s ex­ist­ing tar­gets are suf­fi­cient. The broad­caster has said that by 2020 it wants 50% of its work­force to be women, 8% dis­abled peo­ple, 8% les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual or trans­gen­der peo­ple and 15% to be from a BAME back­ground.

A BBC spokesper­son said: “Of­com’s re­port ac­knowl­edges its fig­ures are from 2016 and that the BBC has since pub­lished more up-to-date ev­i­dence. We’ve been clear about our com­mit­ment to lead­ing the way on di­ver­sity and our fig­ures for 2017 show we have in­creased our rep­re­sen­ta­tion across the board.”

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