Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to ‘Are we being heard?’
Let me start with a brief outline of the situation as it is;
I made a speech at BAFTA recently, where I spoke about my shock at the recent Skillset census. It revealed that between 2006 and 2012, the number of BAME’s (Black Asian Minority Ethnics) working in the UK TV Industry has declined by 30.9%.
Skillset’s figures clearly showed that BAME representation in the Creative industries in 2012 stood at 5.4% – its lowest point since they began taking the census. This is an appalling figure, especially when you consider that London, arguably the UK’s biggest creative hub, is 40% BAME. Interestingly recent figures from Directors UK show that 98.5% of directors in the industry are white.
Back then everybody said something needed to be done. Government Ministers said something needed to be done, the BBC said something needed to be done, Channel 4 said something needed to be done and Sky announced their 20% BAME targets. I was invited to talk at a Parliamentary Select Committee. Diversity was going to be addressed. Life was great.
But this is where I differed from many of the big TV companies and broadcasters. They seemed to think more training initiatives were the easy fix – not training courses for those in positions of power on how they could be more diverse and inclusive in their employment practices and commissioning – but instead further training for the BAME talent base!
They set up tonnes of BAME training schemes, management training, youth training, even trainee commissioners.
Now I am not arguing against training, far from it nor am I suggesting that these initiatives lack merit or the best of intentions.
My concern is this that when the only tangible solution on the table to create significant and sustainable change is training it can be argued that inadvertently the perception being perpetuated of the BAME creative community, the reason why BAME people are leaving the industry, the reason why our numbers are at their lowest in years is because we’re not good enough.
Please don’t misunderstand, I am not arguing against training, training initiatives are what ensures a strong, capable workforce. what I am saying is by all means create training to improve the skill base in the creative industry – but what good is training as a tool to improve inclusion and diversity in the industry if the very systems that have inadvertently created the problem fail to address their systemic failure!
So here’s my revolutionary thought; why don’t we change the system?
Now every ten years the government and the BBC do change the system. It’s called Charter renewal.
They set out how many hours of news and current affairs the BBC should produce, they set out how much children’s programming the corporation needs to do. And they set out how many programmes need to come from outside London.
Guess what people it’s charter renewal time.
So how should we rewrite the charter?
I think everyone in the television industry today would agree that ensuring that diversity in front of the camera, diversity behind camera and a diversity of programmes and voices that speak to all the nations, regions and communities must be our ultimate goal if we are going to truly serve our viewing audiences now and and most importantly in the future! So let’s write it into the charter.
I think making sure programmes of all different genres being made by a diverse production team are just as important as making sure programmes are made by Scottish and Welsh production teams. So like Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland let’s write that into the charter.
If there weren’t enough news and current affairs programmes being made, we wouldn’t blame the journalists and give them more training to make better programmes. We give a current affairs commissioner a budget and a number of hours on TV and she or he has find programme makers to make those programmes.
When there aren’t enough programmes from Scotland we don’t give the Scots more training. We place more commissioners up there to find good Scottish programme makers to make good programmes.
Let’s do the same to ensure BAME representation.
Let’s create a number of commissioners and give them real power (and that means money) to find productions made by diverse teams to make great programmes.
And let’s not ghettoise these diverse programme makers by saying they can only make programmes about black or Asian issues. Just like Scotland can make Eggheads and it’s a Scottish programme, I want BAME professionals to have access to make programmes across the TV landscape, from high end period dramas to Panoramas.
We are calling for a “Catalyst Funds” to be written into the Charter, with new commissioners that could be called “catalyst” commissioners. They would act as a catalyst for spreading diversity throughout the industry.
To access this catalyst money, productions would have to meet certain criteria, the same as Nation and Regions do. Those criteria are set by Ofcom and relate to:
Where the company is based,
How much of the production money is spent in that area,
and where a certain amount of the staff come from.
If a production meets two of these criteria, it is eligible for ‘out of London’ nations and regions funding.
Exactly the same system could be applied to diverse productions.
For a production to qualify itself as “diverse” it would need to meet criteria:
*The number of on-screen BAME talent.
*The number of BAME senior production staff
“The general ‘staff spend’ on BAME talent
If a programme hits two of these criteria, it could qualify for this money.
Catalyst money would focus the minds of those in positions of responsibility.
If catalyst funding was to be made available, production companies would be focused on nurturing BAME TALENT to ensure that their productions were eligible.
The financial imperative would force broadcasters to change the status quo. Ofcom would regulate this and put in place monitoring systems to keep the whole thing on track.
Like Nadia Comaneci playing Twister, the Catalyst Fund can be incredibly flexible.
Firstly, the regulator could designate a relatively small sum and increase it slowly over time. This is exactly what Ofcom did with Channel 4 with out-of-London productions.
Secondly, if the dosh isn’t spent, because not enough suitable qualifying productions could be found, it can be rolled over to the next financial year. The increased funds would be an even bigger incentive to find programmes that would qualify.
Alternatively, if the regulators thought the underspend was because there weren’t enough high quality programme ideas submitted that year to the catalyst fund – ‘most unlikely – but those funds could be frozen at that level for the following year. The unspent capital could be put into development and where
there is a clearly identifiable need, training. (I’m not 100% against training – honest!) So, in this regard, the catalyst fund will act as a self-correcting mechanism for the systemic issues relating to under representation of BAME talent in the industry.
To be specific, the catalyst fund will address both supply and most importantly demand. You see my friends, the creation of demand – a market for programmes that appeal to the diverse audience that is Britain today, made by a diverse workforce in front and behind camera, is the key to true change. once demand has been addressed, targeted training to meet the needs of the industry becomes supply with purpose!
Lastly, and I can’t stress this enough, the whole point of the catalyst fund is to get diversity into all areas of the television broadcast output. Regional programmes are all about the mainstream. That’s why at least a minimum of ten Panorama programmes are made from N. Ireland every year, Question Time is made in Scotland and Crimewatch and Doctor Who come from Wales. That’s why the Daleks now say, “Exterminate isn’t it, look you. Tidy.”
Set the criteria right and catalyst funds could ensure there are more programmes offering a truly diverse perspective across the broadcast output made by diverse productions.
The idea of more BAME indies being set up to take advantage of these catalyst funds, and large indies willing to train and employ more people from diverse backgrounds, is really exciting.
And all it would take is a little tweaking to the charter. And Lord knows they are doing a bit more than tweaking it right now.
Two months ago, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission was busy saying that quotas are illegal, they also said the idea of having dedicated funds to help BAME productions overcome the lack of diverse representation both on screen and behind camera) is legal.
This was a seminal moment my friends, with EHRC’s blessing, we’re one step closer to achieving that goal.
Now I could go on about the need for better monitoring, I could moan about the fact that the industry’s much heralded “Project Diamond” which is meant to monitor the diversity of productions has taken far too long.
But ten years ago the BBC didn’t wait for a perfect monitoring system to change their whole system and put more productions outside of London. We didn’t need perfect stats and figures for the last charter renewal to stipulate that more programmes needed to be made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We can change the charter now. We have a once in a decade chance to change history, to make diversity a celebration of our nation rather than a problem!
Let’s make history and let’s all make sure we change the face of the television industry forever.