Broadcasters could be fined for diversity failings warns Ofcom

Ofcom chief warns TV companies that they could face financial penalties if they are not transparent about their staff make-up

Sharon White

UK broadcasters could face punishing fines from Ofcom if they don’t improve diversity or provide data on the make-up of their workforce, the regulator’s boss warned.

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Ofcom’s chief executive Sharon White issued the warning in the wake of a “shocking” report from the body, which found that women accounted for 48 per cent of the total workforce at the five main broadcasters  – compared with 51% across the general population – and held just 39 per cent of senior roles.

The report showed that those from a black, African or ethnic minority background made up 12 per cent of workers, and disabled people just 3 per cent, despite accounting for 14% and 18% of the general population respectively.

White said many of the results from the report, which focused on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Channel 5 owners Viacom, will “concern the whole industry” and added that companies could be fined if they didn’t improve.

“I want broadcasters to say, ‘My god this is a wake-up call’, but we do have powers to enforce if it gets to that,” she revealed at the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention.

She added that 57 of Britain’s top broadasting companies have failed to provide Ofcom with information on the make-up of their work force and she wants culture secretary Karen Bradley to force all UK broadcasters to make their data available.

“I have written to Karen Bradley to say we want to get as much information as possible, can you give us the powers to collect as much information as possible.

“We don’t have the power at the moment. We ask and it’s voluntary. We don’t have the statutory  power to ask for the data,” White added. “We believe in the power of transparency and have asked the government, ‘Can you give us the power to collect the information?’

“For the 57 broadcasters who provided us with no information at all on their workforces, we will take enforcement action if we need to. Setting out that we will take sanctions will be the incentive for broadcasters… and hopefully next year the data is in a better shape.”

Penalties include the possibility of fines or – in extreme cases – taking away their licence to broadcast.

The Ofcom report points out that 61 per cent of the BBC board and senior managers are men and is particularly embarrassing for the Corporation.

Among mid-level management, 57 per cent are male. Around 13 per cent of BBC staff are non-white, 1 per cent behind the general population, but only 6 per cent of top jobs are held by people from ethnic minorities.

The document said that the BBC should be “leading the way”, but that the report “shows its performance on most characteristics is behind that of Channel 4”, which had the most diverse work force across most characteristics.

White said the report “paints a worrying picture, with many broadcasters failing properly to monitor the make-up of their employees”.

She added that “too many people from minority groups struggle to get into television”, which “creates a cultural disconnection between the people who make programmes, and the many millions who watch them”.

Ofcom’s research found that lots of people felt there are not enough programmes on TV that “authentically portray their lives and communities”.

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White said a “step-change across the industry” is needed and that broadcasters need to regularly measure and monitor the make-up of their work force, set clear diversity targets and that “diversity transformation should be led from the top”.