Last week I missed what people are calling one of the most significant events of recent times tackling the thorny issue of diversity in the creative media industry. To say I missed it would give the impression that I was actually invited, but had I been here I too would of found a way to join the forty or so TV professionals who met the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Ed Vaizey
Shocked by the latest Creative Skillset census and the fall of Black and Asian talent working in the industry, Ed Vaizey held a ministry roundtable to discuss what should be done.
Whilst trying to eke out the very last of the holiday season, I was tempted to cut my vacation short. You see the optimist inside me prayed that this latest round of talks would force the industry to come to its senses and finally open the floodgates for both talent and content. But my overwhelming sense of realism knows I have experienced a decade and a half of having the same conversation resulting in little or no change. The sun on my back and my meditative state managed to convince me I had nothing left to say that would add real value to the debate.
Wasn’t it just a few months ago that the Labour MP Chuka Umunna said black actors are leaving Britain to escape ‘lazy stereotypes’, the BBC’s DG Lord Hall was asked what the BBC was doing to improve programmes for black audiences. And in November Bafta hosted Diversify which at the time was billed to be “one of the most significant events of its type and is “a must attend event for anyone concerned with improving equality in the workplace.”?
By now we all know the problems, they have been discussed from every angle humanly possible – the lack of diverse talent in decision-making positions, the inability for diverse talent to get a job let alone forge a successful career; should there be monitoring, quotas, financial penalties and On screen, diverse communities are still complaining of negative and one-dimensional portrayal – But yet still no change.
The phrase ‘all talk and no action’ springs to mind – diversity in the media industry has become one of the hottest debated subjects but given all the talk there seems to be a marked lack of action. So while I indulged in the joyous feeling of the light of the sun on my back, I pondered what’s with the industry love affair of discussing the issue but its failure to do anything about it? ‘What is the real problem with diversity?’
Until the emergence of the Internet, diversity has always been seen as problem in the main that affected those from communities who couldn’t get a job in the industry and those who felt misrepresented by TV. So improving diversity in media felt like a ‘good’ thing to do rather than having a real business imperative.
Fast-forward to present day, TV is in trouble. As Britain’s communities continue to evolve and become more varied so too does our viewing habit. It is common knowledge that many young people are now consuming less and less TV and those from diverse communities are turning to the Internet to find news and programmes that best suit their needs. If the current trend continues the future of broadcasting isn’t ‘orange’ it’s bleak.
The irony is that it’s actually the industry refusal to embrace diversity, which is actually fuelling this change.
I really hope that this is the inspiration behind Ed Vasiey’s round table meeting and he is not indulging in a game of ‘politricks’.
So given all the discussion why have things still not got better? Could the answer lay in the fear of change? Could the real reason why the doors have been firmly kept closed to diverse talent be based on TV trying to avoid suffering the same fate as the UK streets? Would true representation on TV mean giving airtime to Somali, Polish, Chinese, Muslim and the numerous new communities now settling in the UK? Would this change the face of TV as we know it? Forcing the powers that be to relinquish their power? Is this the uncomfortable truth holding back change?
Whatever the answer is, I for one am tired of being pacified by conversations full of good intention, which lead to nowhere. The time has come for the industry to put up or shut up!
So while I won’t be waiting with bated breath for this new round of talks to actually manifest into real change. I do hope that the industry pays attention as audiences continue to turn their back on mainstream TV’s. You see change is inevitable and coming anyway and unless the industry takes heed of the warning signs, TV as we know it could be a thing of the past.
So let’s see if Ed Vaizey can inspire real change whilst diverse talent are still willing and able to engage. As sooner or later the lure of the new emerging platforms, access to potential audiences and new ways of earning an income become to hard to resist.
In 2014 let’s not focus our attentions on what the industry is going to do for us, instead lets concentrate on what we can do for ourselves.