As Jessop’s, Blockbusters and HMV crash and burn – we can all see the recession is taking its toll on traditional models. Iconic brand names are disappearing from our high streets at an alarming rate. Bills are up, wages are down and nobody can escape the fear of unemployment or redundancy. But, forgive me, I can’t help but mention the ‘D’ word that everyone hates to hear: Diversity.

Five years ago, former EHRC chair Trevor Phillips predicted the economic downturn could have an adverse effect on diversity in the media.

Speaking at the 2008 MediaGuardian Ethnic Media Summit, he said, “The first group to potentially feel the impact would be women, as in a downturn they could be viewed as “too expensive, too difficult”

He also went on to say, “History has shown that “belts squeeze disproportionately” in relationship to ethnic minority employees…”

Today, those warnings seem worryingly accurate. A recent report shows increasing unemployment among ethnic minorities and women. This is not an issue affecting media alone but the country and it’s industry-wide. 

The number of women out of work is the highest it has been in 25 years. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are particularly affected, with 20.5% being unemployed compared to 6.8% of white women, with 17.7% of black women also unemployed.

66% of white graduates found work within a year compared with 56.3% for black, Asian or other ethnic minority students.

Almost half of black men aged between16 – 24 are unemployed and this is expected to rise to a shocking 70% in three years.

The research makes for grim reading, and as we potentially head for a triple dip recession I can’t help but think the situation is only going to get worse.

But could the new age of digital media provide a solution?

As we witness the shrinking of opportunities within traditional media career paths, the opportunities within Digital Media is exploding. It is estimated that by 2018 there will be more than 1.2 million digital related jobs created.

I was recently asked to produce an event for television’s Cultural Diversity Network. The aim of the event was not only to excite and inspire BME creative’s to find new ways of entering the digital arena but also challenge the industry to think about ways it can open the ‘digital doors’ to people from minority backgrounds.

According to an Ofcom report, people from BAME backgrounds are key consumers of digital media (internet; mobiles; PDAs). Yet similar to TV they appear less visible within the editorial/commissioning production process – (NB: as opposed to being visible in the software/coding/sales side of the industry).

The day was packed with informative workshops on the opportunities opening up in digital media, creating an online presence and developing multiplatform ideas. The event was also used as tool to collate qualitative research on how attendees felt about the opportunities open to them.

Not surprisingly issues around trust, the lack of cultural understanding, and employers feeling more comfortable with those ‘more similar to them’ were just some of the themes raised – the usual frustration felt by minorities in TV. It was just so depressing to hear, given that Digital Media is still emerging as an industry.

What was very noticeable was the freedom people felt Digital Media had given them in expressing their own creativity. Blog writing, social media and sites like YouTube had given them a space to test out their ideas and build their own audience without waiting for anyone’s permission.

The industry is facing a new breed of competitors.  Production companies and broadcasters may have the financial resources and clout, but there is a new generation of creative’s who are inspired by neglect and driven by necessity.

Take for instance ex-TV exec EL James whose internet writing became the hugely successful Fifty Shades trilogy or Jamal Edwards who runs the cult online youth channel SBTV. In its relatively short life span SBTV has already managed to rack up over 100 million viewers on YouTube. It won’t be long before the likes of SBTV start cutting into advertising revenue and become a real competitor to established and traditional media.

As we navigate our way through this evolving digital landscape, let’s make a pledge to learn from history. Let’s ensure the investment on diversity initiatives, publicity and training isn’t wasted.  The years of debating, the tireless efforts by so many from within and outside television and radio…. were not all in vain.

Over the next year The TV Collective will continue be the cheerleaders for creativity, shining a light on hidden gems of talent in the media from diverse backgrounds who feel on the fringes or under the radar of the mainstream UK TV, digital media and film establishments.

We want to partner with broadcasters and production companies to find ways to unlock the ‘digital doors’ to people from minority backgrounds. Let’s ensure the economic climate – coupled with complacency – doesn’t fast forward us back to yesteryear when minorities were on the margins of mainstream TV.  I’ve got some great ideas so get in contact and together lets make it happen.

Simone Pennant

The TV Collective