Since Lenny Henry gave the BAFTA Television lecture and he presented the model for diversity in the media, now referred to as the Henry Paper; diversity once again has become a hot topic for discussion in offices and corridors of the gate keepers in their media ivory-towers.
I get the sense that the large institutions once undisputed bastions of media production and broadcasting, are worried. Diversity is a “problem” that just keeps on giving, it keeps on coming back. Biting its masters initially on the ankles now it’s gotten a firmer hold and has wrapped its jaws around a more vulnerable and sensitive part of the industry’s anatomy. This time we are striving hard with all of our collective might not to let go.
September is the month when all these initiatives about diversity and how the BBC, ITV, SKY and Channel 4 plan to implement measures that will address the cultural imbalance on our screens. The content that British broadcasters create is not reflective of modern-day 2014 Britain. But being the cynic that I am, the British East Asian that I am and long in the tooth – I cannot help but think in spite of all the PR and statements emanating from the broadcasters mouths – those that hold the power to decided what programmes are made, how, the nature of the content and even how it is cast and with whom, they really aren’t that keen to loosen their grip on the reigns of power.
If we are going to change the face of British broadcasting and start producing content that retains the same high production values we already have, we are going to need a bit more than just seeing more BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) faces on TV or in British films. We need to start seeing BAMEs being cast in central roles. Driving the dramas being integral to the plot and doing it all without the need for accents. We’ll need to start seeing productions, writing, producers and casting directors accepting the authenticity of BAMEs as British as well as their historic heritage. We need writers with BAME backgrounds. Not just writers that broadcasters feel safe with. How is this to be achieved?
We need writers that reflect and portray the diversity and complexity of multicultural and ploy ethnic Britain. We need BAME writers that are willing to challenge the old historic ideas of country, culture and politics. Writers that are not afraid to expose the soft underbelly of today’s society. We need Broadcasters that can see beyond, that see the potential of a costume drama which doesn’t have to be cast entirely with white actors. We need to have facial, age and gender variety. In short more opportunities for ALL. As good as the current handful of head-liners are, appearing in practically all media content on British TV and film for that matter, one can hardly say it is diverse, varied or bringing on unrecognised talent whether that be discovering and championing new BAME talent or finding more experienced BAME artists who have never had the opportunities that seem to come so much more readily to their Caucasian counterparts.
For diversity really to be accepted and made part of the foundations and bedrock of our culture and media, the stewards and gatekeepers either have to change their outlook radically and accept the reality of things as they are in 2014; or we have to change those stewards and gatekeepers to ones that can accept and are willing to portray the realities of British BAMEs on TV.
No one relinquish power without a fight. Abdication from such positions of media and creative power will not happen without a struggle. With all these supposed announcements stating what the broadcasters intentions and actions will be to achieve greater diversity in the media. Are we being herded in to a diversity cul-de-sac? When the announcements and PR dust has settled, will we find that what’s on offer, actually isn’t an offer? That any notion of “ring-fenced” funds to specifically encourage, bring on and nurture BAME talent, ideas and artists, once again is just smoke and financial mirrors? Will quotas ever be introduced to ensure that the playing field is properly levelled and even for all? If broadcasters fail to staff their productions with BAME creatives and talent, what real sanctions will there be? Will there be anything to force unwilling or recalcitrant media companies from just continuing as they are now? What of Section 29 of the Equality Act? Will UK broadcasters continue to be able to opt out and therefore continue not to make it illegal to broadcast racist material?
Will we find that diversity is just a hash-tag, a label and box that can be ticked but that is never filled?
Until the major players on the media stages start talking openly and honestly about the BAME elephant in the room – everything that they propose is just superficial dressing. Until we have hard cold cash and investment in the BAME talent pool it’s all cultural sensitivity elastoplast. Until broadcasters start using the existing pool of talented actors in their long-established weekly dramatic serials, one-off dramas and series there will be no real change. If BAMEs are just “popping” up more regularly but still as migrants, outsiders or ” the other” with accompanying foreign accents. Then we’re still not being seen, accepted and incorporated into our own “British” culture. Culturally we’re still being extrapolated from being British. We’re being corralled away from being included in a British artistic interpretation of our own landscape.
I hope that will not be the case. I hope that the existing movements and groups such as Act For Change, TV Collective, Media Diversified and The British East Asian Artists group will help us to secure a richer, more exciting and diverse media both in front and behind the camera.
Just as I was about to publish this came across my news feed.
How much of that 1.5 mill is from the public purse?