It’s been a dismal few days for diversity. Now Ofcom must intervene. First, the BBC claimed that at 14.5% BAME, it was outperforming its target. But we can’t know how much of this growth is from the World Service, Global News and people outside the UK. Last year the percentage of BAME people actually working at the BBC in creative roles making output for a British audience was just 9.2%. Has this gone up or down? There’s no way to tell.
BBC DG Tony Hall boasted that 10% of BBC leaders were BAME and said he wanted to see more. Has nobody told him that Aaquil Ahmed, Tamara Howe, Jawad Iqbal, Liliane Landor, Tony Phillips, Marcus Ryder, Anjula Singh, Maxine Watson and Elonka Soros have all left and that diversity needs to be about retention too?
There was worse to come – the news that CDN/Project Diamond is refusing to publish programme diversity data. Broadcasters know the truth would be embarrassing. It is clear that CDN/Project Diamond, financed and controlled by the broadcasters, has become their compliant poodle.
CDN tells BECTU there are legal complexities in providing data yet its own website says of Holby City “35% of regular characters are BAME, and across a year-long series 46% of characters are BAME … Two of this year’s episodes were directed by a deaf director; 10% of the episodes were written by BAME writers and the editorial department includes 40% BAME employees.” This is much more granular than anything BECTU is seeking.
Last week I told Broadcast C4 was exemplary. That was before I knew it was complicit with the BBC and Sky in this cover-up. Suppressing this data is a serious stain on Channel 4. It should hold its nose, find some nerve, show leadership and publish its own programme diversity data.
Understandably, BECTU and the Writers Guild are boycotting Project Diamond. Other unions may follow. We need to have the Diamond data and to unlock the boycott. The Culture Minister, Matt Hancock, has been strong on diversity but he once told me Ministers can’t tell Ofcom and broadcasters what to do.
The time has come for Ofcom to intervene. Ofcom has the statutory duty and power to ask the broadcasters for programme diversity data and to publish it.
Will Ofcom grasp the nettle? We get conflicting signals. In diversity, tough talk is seldom matched by tough action. Sharon White has talked tough but when Ofcom was asked about programme diversity date at its annual public meeting in January, White’s staff gave a very fudgy answer. Ofcom should heed the government’s McGregor-Smith review which says “Daylight is the best disinfectant” and employers should be transparent on diversity.
Ofcom says it will publish a diversity report this Summer. It should now tell us exactly what will be in it. Will it compare broadcasters on a like for like basis and cut out the BBC data padding? Ofcom should also say quite clearly that it will demand and publish programme diversity data. That should satisfy the unions enough to call the boycott off.