Last Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the TV inquiry’s Future of TV debate. As some of you may already know, the BBC’s charter is up for renewal, which has sparked a series of discussions about how the BBC represents and supplies Britain’s entertainment industry. Lord Puttnam is leading the inquiry into the British television industry, and this was one of the many debates that are being run as part of that. It was chaired by the venerable Pat Younge, CEO of Sugar Films and the man behind some of the most influential and well-known BBC shows. Also speaking was Sir Lenny Henry – need I say more?! He sits on the advisory board to Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, and has launched a new plan for increasing diversity in the TV industry. In this blog, I’ll give a summary of what he said, and add my own comments on that.
So Lenny Henry proposes that the BBC ring-fence a portion of money which can only be accessed by producers and commissioners if their proposed production meets certain diversity criteria in terms of both on and off screen talent. Sky has already initiated something similar: one of the top roles in the production (director, producer, scriptwriter, lead talent) must be BAME. This ring-fenced money could be accessed by any of the TV genres: childrens, sports, factual, dramas etc, as long as it meets these criteria. So it’s the same pot of money that goes to BBC productions, but the productions that arise from this pot should be more culturally and ethnically diverse.
Although there were many arguments against quotas raised at the debate, I agree with Lenny’s proposal, for two main reasons: money talks and power lies with the commissioners. That money will talk to the commissioners, who want access to that money to make good productions, and will commission productions that meet the criteria needed to get that money. Result: more BAME diverse productions will get made.
But I’ve got two things to add to that. It’s pretty hard to get diverse on screen talent if you commission productions set in Scotland, Wales or period dramas. And London is much, much more diverse than, for example, County Durham. So I think the secret to getting more on screen talent is for writers to write more BAME lead roles – or even non-criminal BAME characters! I think that in addition to Lenny’s excellent idea, producers and commissioners need to actively be searching for BAME writing talent, because only then will we get the right kind of material to make into good, diverse TV. Having said that, there is nothing to stop the production team on period dramas etc being as diverse as possible, and there is also nothing to stop the ring-fenced money being accessed by fulfilling those quotas.
The second thing is the financial barrier to TV, as well as the cultural one. Typically the areas of London or the rest of the country that are BAME rich are the poorer areas. And as we’ve seen in my blogs over the winter months, even if you’ve got a private education and Russell Group University degree, it’s really hard to get started in the TV industry unless you work three jobs at a time, not all of which might be paid *cough* work experience placements*cough*. If it was so hard for someone like me, well educated, driven, determined and experienced, to get into the TV industry, what chance does anyone from an under-privileged working class background stand?! The financial barriers are half this problem, I would say. And that is something that no one has a solution for…yet.
So please keep looking out for these debates, and follow @TVinquiry or #FutureofTV on Twitter to keep up with the latest developments in the changes about to occur to the TV industry!