Sir Lenny Henry has accused Ofcom of promoting “fake diversity,” after the broadcasting regulator only introduced diversity targets for on-screen talent while ignoring behind-the-scenes equality.
Comedian and actor Henry, who was speaking in parliament to a panel that included the Labour MP David Lammy, the Conservative MP Helen Grant and the Liberal Democrat peer Jane Bonham Carter, chastised a report from Ofcom released on Monday, which had said it would only set targets for “on-screen diversity” rather than those who actually commission or make TV shows.
“They suggest that as long as we have a BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] person on the TV screen, giving the appearance of diversity, then it is absolutely OK, fine, peachy and dandy, even if the creators who make the content are completely un-diverse,” Henry said (according to the Guardian). “This is fake diversity.
“It’s all very well to say: ‘Look, this person has an Asian antagonist or a gay second lead.’ That’s great but who was the producer, who was the commissioner, who was the script editor, the head of casting, the photographer, the director, the first AD? If the deciders remain the same then nothing has really changed.”
Henry, who in recent years has led the charge for more diversity in TV, went on to show the panel a slideshow of this year’s key Bafta TV Craft winners (awards that honour behind-the-camera talent), and jokingly described the all-white line-up as a “White House staff meeting”.
Henry discusses ring-fencing 3 years ago
“This is the dirty secret of what our industry really looks like behind the camera,” he said.
Henry also questioned a BBC claim that 14% of its staff are from a BAME background, pointing out that this includes all staff working for the BBC World Service for foreign language networks and administrative staff. Meanwhile, a recent survey by Directors UK found that in all British broadcasters (not just the BBC) there were no talk shows, period dramas, sketch shows, children’s entertainment shows or reality TV shows with BAME directors.
“So while the BBC’s official figures say 14.5% are BAME, the number of BAME people responsible for making the programmes we watch is probably closer to 1.5%,” Henry explained.
“The number of BAME people behind the scenes in our industry is at crisis level and we need Ofcom to do something about it.”
And Henry believes he has a solution, which he has been putting forward for several years – ringfencing funds for BAME diversity, in a similar way to Ofcom schemes that strictly regulate budgets in different areas of Britain to ensure regional diversity behind the camera.
“They didn’t try to measure how many people were wearing kilts on screen, or whether someone had a Geordie accent,” Henry explained.
“It’s about where a programme’s money was being spent, who was employed behind the camera and where the company making the programme was based. Ofcom must so the same for other types of diversity. It is possible to make our media fully diverse.”
After receiving support from the panel, Henry concluded that this issue was “a fight about who, and who isn’t, considered British, a fight about whose voices do and do not matter.
“In today’s Britain, with Brexit … the need for all our voices to be heard is more important than ever,” he added.
“In a country where racist attacks are on the rise and where people retreat into their own social media bubbles, self-reinforcing extreme world views – and that includes the leader of the free world – diversity isn’t a luxury, it is essential.”
“Improving diversity in broadcasting – behind and in front of camera – is a crucial issue and a priority for Ofcom,” an Ofcom spokesperson told RadioTimes.com, also noting that they weren’t invited to speak at the parliamentary event.
“The BBC has an important duty to reflect the full diversity of the UK. The Charter places duties on Ofcom to regulate the BBC’s on-air diversity, but we also recognise that off-screen is critically important.
“We expect the BBC to increase diversity off-screen, and it has a workforce target of 15% representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minorities, across all staff, including leadership, by 2020. We are clear that we will consider further action if we don’t see early and continued progress.
“We’re also closely monitoring and reporting on the workforce diversity of all broadcasters in our forthcoming diversity survey.”