Ofcom takes aim at BBC’s diversity failure
Corporation told it should lead way for broadcasters Representation of women and BAME people ‘woeful’
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.”