EXCLUSIVE: Channel 4 has refused to release the findings of an independent review into whether it is an anti-racist organization, saying that putting the document in the public domain would have a “chilling effect” on internal diversity discussions.
The British broadcaster, which has a unique remit to champion under-represented voices, blocked the release of a review by consultancy Caerus Executive following a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request by Deadline.
Instructed by Channel 4 last year, Caerus interviewed current and former staff members and provided advice on creating a “truly inclusive and anti-racist environment.”
In its decision to refuse release, Channel 4 said Caerus provided a “free and frank” analysis of the broadcaster’s progress, but publishing the document would “inhibit” internal discussions over implementing the recommendations.
Channel 4 said it was important to create a “safe space in which participants can be totally candid in offering their views and advice.” Publishing would have a “chilling effect” that could damage the quality of decisions, the broadcaster added.
This did not stop Channel 4 from sharing findings from a similar Caerus Executive review in 2017. In an email to staff that was leaked to the media later that year, CEO Alex Mahon detailed Caerus’ conclusions, including a perception that white people had better career progression opportunities at Channel 4.
Since then, The Times of London published a story last year in which 10 ethnic minority ex-employees accused Channel 4 of having a “toxic” culture after a woman signed a secret settlement following a racial discrimination complaint. Channel 4 vehemently defended its record on diversity at the time.
In a statement today, Channel 4 said it was committed to being an open and welcoming organization and that creating an “inclusive culture” was one of its top priorities.
Channel 4’s decision to deny the FOI request comes as Deadline has seen internal emails from 2021 shedding light on the sensitive nature of the diversity debate at the British broadcaster — even when it relates to a progressive ambition.
The emails reveal unease among Channel 4 diversity leaders over the company’s replacement for the acronym “BAME” (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic), despite the alternative being chosen following a poll of members of The Collective, an employee group that advocates for those from diverse backgrounds.
The emails between senior leaders and internal diversity advocates reveal a clear consensus around abandoning BAME, but that the term Channel 4 now elects to use, “ethnically diverse,” was also considered to be problematic because of its catch-all nature.
During the exchange, Channel 4’s chief content officer Ian Katz, who did not lead on the BAME decision-making process, acknowledged that it was not a straightforward debate. He said “ethnically diverse” was the “least disliked” alternative by The Collective.
The emails show that Channel 4’s desire to display leadership on ditching BAME meant that it preempted by seven months a report on the acronym by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity. Published in December 2021, it resulted in major UK broadcasters abandoning BAME.
The Lenny Henry Centre said there was “little widespread agreement on a new term” among UK broadcasters. It said the TV industry should attempt to avoid “collective terms” and be more specific when describing people’s ethnicity. This view was echoed in internal deliberations at Channel 4.
Channel 4 Hits Diversity Target
Deadline can reveal that Channel 4 has hit its 2023 target to ensure that 20% of its employees are from ethnically diverse backgrounds. It represents an improvement on 19% in 2022. The 20% target was originally set for 2020, but Channel 4 failed to achieve the goal and it was pushed back three years.
Recent Creative Diversity Network figures showed a mixed picture for on- and off-screen diversity on Channel 4 shows. On-screen contributions from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic individuals increased from 18.5% in 2018-19 to 19.6% in 2021-22.
It follows the success of initiatives such as 2021’s Black to Front, a day dedicated to Black representation on Channel 4. The project gave rise to a full series of The Big Breakfast, presented by Mo Gilligan and AJ Odudu.
Off-screen was a different story: contributions to Channel 4 shows went backwards from 16.2% to 14.1% over the three-year period, according to the Creative Diversity Network. This contrasts with the BBC, Sky, and ITV, which all improved behind-the-camera representation on their shows. Deadline understands that Channel 4’s own figures paint a better picture.
A Channel 4 spokesperson said: “Channel 4 is fully committed to being an open, welcoming, creative organisation where everyone can be themselves. We are constantly challenging ourselves to do more to create a genuinely inclusive culture and that will always be a priority for the business’s most senior leaders. Channel 4 was one of many organisations which dropped the term BAME and staff were central to the process in determining a preferred alternative.
“Over the past five years we have made huge progress towards making Channel 4 one of the most representative and inclusive media companies in the UK and this year achieved our target of 20% of all staff and 20% of our top 100 highest paid staff coming from ethnic minorities.”