LENNY HENRY SPEECH AT ED VAIZEY ROUND TABLE 7th JULY 2014
First of all can I just say how amazing it is to see so many powerful people in broadcasting gathered in one room. This weekend I have had all sorts of people asking me how I can get them on the guest list for this meeting.
Forget Dolly Parton live at Glastonbury – THIS- Is the hot ticket of the year.
But it is more significant than that. Diversity in television has never been given such a high prominence before and for that I think Ed Vaizey, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 should be strongly commended.
But the truth is -the reason we are all here- is because things are getting worse.
Both in front and behind the cameras things are either not good enough or are actually going backwards – yet we live in the United Kingdom – a country that by its very name is fashioned from the narratives of different people being woven together. We need people behind the camera to make sure those stories are told.
The stories of the Welsh, English, Scottish, the Irish and the Diaspora.
The tales of men, woman and children. The narratives of the different classes and people from different backgrounds coming together.
The battle to achieve diversity is not just about getting more black or Asian faces on our screens – but about building a stronger nation – a Greater Great Britain.
But addressing a room full of TV executives I will appeal to the future of the thing we all have a great love for: television.
BAME people are watching 50% less terrestrial television a week than their white counterparts. The fastest growing section of our audience does not want to watch the programmes the broadcasters are making.
If we want to stay relevant and to have a future, broadcasters need to become more diverse – and quickly.
I know that ITV want what I want. The BBC and the vast majority of BAME talent have the same vision, Channel 4 execs and diversity champions share the same goal.
None of us have all the answers. Let’s all accept no one has a monopoly on being right. But together we are the cleverest people British television have thrown together to come up with a solution.
I want to take the best parts of all our solutions, combine them together and create a more diverse greater television.
Some people have spoken about the Henry Plan of ring-fenced money as being in conflict with the plans the BBC and other broadcasters have announced. That’s wrong. They are actually complimentary.
The Henry plan is about ring-fencing money for BAME productions for any type of programme that is made by a BAME team from Dr Who to Question Time. From Broadchurch to Benidorm as well as Top Boy and Luther – That’s a hell of a lot of potential programmes, which is why I don’t believe this will be hard to achieve at all!
But behind closed doors people have said to me; “Lenny, we would love to do this but there just aren’t enough talented BAME people out there to make the programmes”.
First of all I disagree with them. It is the same mindset that led people to say there weren’t enough good Black British actors to be leads until America realised there were. Until they saw Idris Elba in the Wire or Chewitel Ejifore in 12 Years a Slave.
But let’s for a minute assume they are right and there is not enough BAME production talent to make the ring-fencing for BAME productions a reality. In that case let’s combine the best of the BBC announcements of more training and money for development with the best of the Henry Plan.
That’s why I value the training and development initiatives and development fund that have been announced by the BBC. In conjunction with the Henry Plan they could help deliver if ring-fencing faces shortages of talent.
That’s why ring-fencing is so different from quotas. Ring-fenced money that isn’t spent one year can go into more training initiatives to hit the ring-fenced target the following year. We will never commission a programme just to hit a target!
We can all work together. My original plan did not address capacity building – the BBC’s does. The BBC’s initiatives are brilliant – I have never heard such commitment to diversity training before – but they don’t address the end result, actually commissioning programmes.
My proposal is that the BBC should agree to roll out the Henry plan in two years’ time, once their new initiatives have had time to bed in. Other broadcasters could either jump right in and test the Henry Plan now or implement it at the same time as the BBC.
And the benefit of this for the BBC or other broadcasters with similar initiatives? It would provide a real objective for the training – a goal. The Henry plan actually makes all the training and all the development funds more focused. We’ll be helping each other.
Now one last thing. Since putting my head above the parapet and talking about diversity a lot of BAME production talent have contacted me. And although the vast majority – like myself – welcome the new training and development initiatives they have a fear.
The fear of being blamed. Truth is training and development runs the real risk of blaming the victim for their own victimhood. It says to BAME people that the reason they have hit the glass ceiling is because they are not good enough and they need more training. It says to BAME production companies that the reason we don’t commission from them is because they aren’t good enough – they need more development time and money.
But we’ve never addressed the glass ceiling for women by telling them they are the problem. We’ve acknowledge that men need to change their attitudes, and we now often expressly seek female candidates for top jobs. We didn’t address the lack of regional diversity by telling Scottish and Welsh companies they were not good enough. No – we ring-fenced money for them and made them centres of excellence.
In all these other cases, we looked at the structures that held them back – access, location – and tried to address them. So why can’t we do that for BAME?
None of us should be here today to talk about how great our own diversity initiative is. Today should be a day when we look at how good other people’s diversity initiatives are. And how we can combine them all together to come up with the best possible plan.
Diversity is about getting the best out of a broad range of talent. Let’s start right now by getting the best out of a broad range of ideas.