The Diverse Secrets plaguing the BBC

From a top writer on @Medium in journalism

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Writer David Dunkley Gyimah, from his News casting days

It’s opened a deep division of trust and opprobrium. What may have been previously suspected is now abundantly clear.

Diversity has an anomalous price tag. Co-equals working in television, are, well, not equal at all. The BBC presenter Chris Evans reels in a pocket-bulging £2.2m a year whilst his female equivalent super star Claudia Winkleman’s take home is a £1.7m less.

The day before in Portcullis House, parliament’s committee room, a diversity debate, chaired by Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy, was being cued up to tackle an equally egregious inequality, though you may have missed it.

Britain’s venerable comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry called the industry out for peddling ‘fake diversity’, a Milli Vanilli diversity — a reference to that global group whom thanks to auto tune faked their act.

Here, it was less who was earning what, more how can you earn a living in television at all (particularly in decision making). The figures of diverse talent in broadcasting pegged often at double digit percentages, is around 1.5%, said Sir Lenny. And Ofcom, he added, tasked four months ago with oversight at the BBC (which retains a BBC policy first in areas) could be doing more to strengthen diversity in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) in positions of power through a number of initiatives.

Every so often the BBC pledges a fix so that a diverse workforce is viewed not as specimen A, but as the norm. However as each season transpires with a cacophony of training schemes, Portcullis House attendants hardly needed reminding from speakers plus ça change. Since that meme was uttered by a former BBC DG of the corporation being ‘hideously white’, now you might add ‘hideously white male’ (high earners).

If you’re a woman, conscientious person, or align yourself with fair play storming into your line managers office demanding answers has just become a protected characteristic. You’ve the right to be outrageously annoyed. Why should men earn more than women?

If these figures weren’t released, presumably it would be business as usual; secrets still acceptable to execs. If you’re wrestling with this, I can only suggest you phone in to Woman’s Hour, or wear a T-shirt arguing against walking down W1A.

As figures were published, the BBC’s Director General Tony Hall pledged boldly that by 2020 the problem would be solved. Today presenter Mishal Husain pushed for an answer. Is everyone now going to earn £2m plus? Hall was guarded, strategically or without a plan thus far, all he could say was by 2020 it would be addressed.

By the evening, it was clear the narrative was pay cuts for men. Cue, gnashing of teeth in bathrooms as high salaried men shaving that stubble realise the jolly cash for that Ferrari is about to be pulled. That’s by no means a given, so sex discriminations lawsuit and higher wage salaries may be a reality to come. Watch the newspapers.

Meanwhile, see that huge wooly mammoth in the room swinging its trunk. If the BBC can settle its nerve and pledge to make women equal to men, what about Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnics? Isn’t it plaintively obvious they’ve been short changed too?

At Portcullis, Marcus Ryder, an ex BBC commissioner, now working in China, lamented the loss of diverse talent, urging attendants to up their activism efforts. Former Culture Minister David Lammy MP drew applause.

The current Culture Minister, Matthew Hancock MP, spoke and threw in his support. He was off to his next meeting at Ofcom and was pressed to convey sentiments in the room. He would, he said and later twitted his meeting had gone well. A young actress spoke up demanding a boycott of those who did not want to entertain BAMEs, perhaps not fully rationalising the sentiment is for inclusion, not otherwise.

Ninety six on-air stars featured on the bombshell pay list earn more than £150,000. Thirty four were women. Ten were from BAME, so where’s the Gordian knot in trying to solve the diversity (race and culture) impasse? The evidence is the most seemingly intractable issues e.g. The Good Friday Agreement can be unpicked through dialogue.

Not so long ago the BBC faced similar inertia in hiring women into positions of power; many were employed as secretaries. In the 1940s, pioneers in Grace Wyndham Goldie, Audrey Russell and Janet Quigley broke a ceiling, masking an obvious deficit by their prominent presence. Nan Winton became the corporations first newsreader.

There were ebbs and flows and pioneering leaps by several women. Then in the late 1980s, something happened. Jane Root, Janet Street Porter, Jana Bennet, Liz Howell and Dawn Airey were a few of the names regularly featured in the industry journals demonstrating a united concerted effort for parity.

Root would later become BBC 2 Controller; Bennet, Director of BBC Television; Howell, Managing Editor at Sky News; Airey, Chief Executive of Channel 5 and Street Porter after successfully filling the BBC 2 slate with a slew of innovative programmes, such as BBC Reportage (I worked on) was being talked about as controller of BBC 1, and even a DG.

Today’s figures show that schism in male-female pay, however gender-diversity action forwarded in the 1980s shows a stark contrast between diversity (women) and diversity (BAMEs). BAMEs were given a fillip to their campaign for greater numbers in television in the 1980s with schemes from the Polytechnic of Central London running MA journalism courses for BAME’s.

Quite a few people have stayed the course and can be seen on British TV, but their success pales compared with gender diversity. That said, many and I include myself acknowledge, gender diversity in places of power still warrant attention.

All of this reminds me of an anecdote from my first time in South Africa, in 1991, at the tail end of Apartheid — legalised discrimination. In Hermanus in Cape Town, what some locals referred to then as millionaires’ playground I met a young Afrikaner lawyer, who believed segregation was the key to her family’s future. She invited me for lunch. Naturally, I went. Naturally, because as a black Brit who’d moved to South Africa to report, I wanted to understand her concerns. I also sensed a good story.

We spoke at length, and she was blunt and matter of fact. Black people didn’t have it, was her line, but somehow I was the muse in the room, not one of the blacks she was referencing. Ignorance can be bliss as an achilles.

I developed a theory, running up and down across the country. Afrikaners who were staunch separatists would rarely hide their views. You could tell where you stood. A number of Brits I met however had, to use Ann Widdecombe’s line on Michael Howard, something of the night about them.

We would have lunch and they would obfuscate their intentions. Of course we’re not separatists they would say, but really I came to South Africa to escape what’s happening in the UK.

Sometimes it was worth reminding them of the presence of black people in 1600s Britain. Saying one thing and doing something else smacks of being disingenuous at best.

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What diversity brings is a moot point in as much it doesn’t require a thesis. Twenty three years ago as newspapers entered the cable television market, I was part of a work force chosen from 3000 applicants that pioneered videojournalism. Channel One demonstrated diversity in action. The contributions of this diverse group was palpable and evident every day. To suggest diversity has no relevance is to, perhaps, contain yourself to a diet of fish and chips for 365 days, or a world that once was or you want it to be in that filter bubble on Facebook, rather than the reality reflected on the streets.

Every bit of what we do has been to mix, match, appropriate, render — the sum of different diverse things. Watch award winning writer Chimamanda express the dangers of single POV stories.

Yesterday, Sir Lenny’s call for action parallels a moral one in line with diversity gender. Its essence is about being objectively sound in positing the benefits of diversity vs mono-narratives or myths. And more recently as Netflix and new programme platforms are demonstrating makes good economic sense. Will broadcasters truly seek to tackle diversity?

Brit, Dr David Dunkley Gyimah, an international (US) award winning videojournalist, and innovator in journalism, leads the disLAB, digital and interactive storytelling LAB at the University of Westminster. He’s currently working with Simone Pennant (who co-organised this event with Simon Albury) as The TVC PowerList — a project examining BAME talent in the industry.

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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