Actor and writer also voices concern that black, Asian and minority ethnic talent is ‘ghettoised’
Sir Lenny Henry has renewed his calls for the BBC to include a ringfenced fund in its royal charter to increase black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in the television industry.
Speaking at an event on diversity in programming at Goldsmiths University, the actor and writer voiced concerns that BAME talent is “ghettoised” with emerging talent pigeonholed into making programmes about ethnic-specific issues.
The event is part of Lord Puttnam’s independent inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting and the landscape of television.
Henry spoke of his disappointment that the Skillset Census, an industry-wide media survey, showed the number of BAME people working in the UK TV industry had declined by 30.9% between 2006 and 2012.
Criticising the response of government ministers and TV companies to the news back in 2012, Henry said: “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.”
Henry argued that BBC charter renewal was an opportunity to force the BBC to take ethnic diversity seriously, calling for a ringfenced fund for BAME talent. “I think everyone in the television industry today would agree that ensuring diversity in front of the camera, diversity behind the 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 in the future,” he said.
He compared the issue to the BBC’s move to make programmes in Wales, Scotland and regions outside of London: “Making sure programmes of all different genres being made by a diverse production team is just as important as making sure programmes are made by Scottish and Welsh production teams. So like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, let’s write that into the charter.”
Pat Younge, managing director of Sugar Films and former BBC creative officer, added: “You can’t be the BBC and take a licence fee from everyone, and then not represent them.”
Henry is currently reading a PhD on race, class and gender in film at Royal Holloway, University of London. To qualify for catalyst funding, Henry envisages commissioners assessing productions to check the percentage of on-screen BAME talent, the number of BAME senior production staff, and the general staff spend on BAME talent. Any programme meeting two of the three criteria could qualify for money to incubate BAME talent.
Henry encouraged BAME students and actors in the audience to embrace media platforms such as YouTube, in the meantime, to find an audience if budgetholders were unresponsive.
But he also argued Ofcom had a responsibility: “To achieve real and sustained change, in diverse representation, we need Ofcom in its capacity as regulator to formally define diversity.”
Henry was talking at the Goldsmiths event at a panel also including Goldsmiths professor Bev Skeggs, broadcaster Pat Younge and the author