TV industry “won’t survive” without major diversity changes, warns BBC boss

"We won't be able to meet the challenges of the next few years if we don't really make diversity an absolute priority."

Charlotte Moore

Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, the BBC’s Director of Content Charlotte Moore welcomed this “moment of absolute change” as the broadcaster pushes for greater diversity in the TV industry, declaring: “If we don’t do it, I literally don’t think the television industry in this country will survive.”

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Moore told delegates in an online session: “Diversity – both on-screen and off-screen – I don’t think has ever been more important to the BBC. If we do not reflect the nation that we are making our programmes for, and I really do think that’s within the industry as well as on-screen, then I think we will have failed.

“And eventually that will mean that we won’t be able to meet the challenges of the next few years if we don’t really make diversity an absolute priority… I think it’s been too long coming, and I think it’s beholden on all of us in the industry to make sure that this is the moment of absolute change, where this becomes part of the norm, part of everything that we do, and I couldn’t be more committed to that.”

But the BBC boss faced questions about why change hasn’t come sooner, and why certain voices have been ignored or sidelined for years.

Host Charlene White commented: “In terms of saying ‘this is the moment’, obviously because of Black Lives Matter happening earlier on this year, but it’s not as though these stories and talent haven’t been here and available and wanting to work and wanting to tell stories for years.

“So why do you think perhaps it’s taken a while to reach this point? Because arguably, yes, it’s at the forefront right now, but there are some people who have been fighting for this for a really long time and have come across a lot of closed doors.”

Moore, who has worked in commissioning at the BBC since 2006, said: “Throughout my career these issues have been very much present in the industry, and yet I don’t really think until the last five years, when you really saw all the broadcasters, all the indies, all the industry, and I would say global industry actually, really taking this seriously – that I think once you see that united force behind it, I really think this is the moment where we will look back and go, that was a moment. We really did see change.

“There are all sorts of reasons as to why I think it’s taken so long, but I guess I would say the commitment is there because I think – not only is it creatively the best thing to do, but actually business-wise, the whole business will benefit from this because that’s what the audience wants to watch. So to be honest, if we don’t do it, I literally don’t think the television industry in this country will survive.”

She added: “Look, there are all sorts of societal reasons, there are all sorts of industry reasons, there are all sorts of blockers, but I’ve never seen so much done in the 20 years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve never seen so much progress and so much change.”

I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You (BBC)

Addressing the BBC’s own efforts to push forward greater diversity and representation, she highlighted recent dramas including I May Destroy You, Noughts + Crosses, A Suitable Boy, and Steve McQueen’s upcoming five-part TV movie series Small Axe: “It’s taken two, three years some of those films. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe has been in development for some years before that, so these shows have taken a long time to reach the screen but I hope they show the real commitment and direction of travel.”

Moore pointed to the BBC’s recently-launched £100 million diversity fund, as well as the new mandatory 20 per cent diverse-talent target which comes into force in April 2021. “Really the big change there isn’t just the money that we have committed because we probably have spent that sort of money on shows that are about diverse issues,” she said. “It’s that target behind the camera, the 20 per cent behind the camera, that I hope really will set a seismic change.”

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