A trio of prominent diversity campaigners unpick last month’s Diamond diversity results
Below is a transcription for the hard of hearing of this week’s Newswrap podcast featuring diversity campaigners Caroline O’Neill, Andrew Roach and Marcus Ryder, hosted by Max Goldbart
Max [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the Broadcast Newswrap. Your shorthand guide to the week’s TV news stories featuring the experts and campaigners you really should be listening to. The Diamond diversity figures were released last fortnight and were met with a chorus of frustration with disappointing slumps and plateaus for disability representation and representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people. This week, campaigners Marcus Ryder, Caroline O’Neill and Andrew Roach join me, Max Goldbart, to analyse where the industry is going wrong and what can be done about the shortfalls. We take a deep dive into issues of intersectionality and there’s even a bit of a disagreement in everybody’s favourite ‘what we’ve been watching’ segment.
Max [00:00:55] And just to say an audio transcription for the hard of hearing will be made available shortly after the podcast is published.
Max [00:01:06] So welcome to the Newswrap podcast this week, and I’m joined by three of the most prominent diversity campaigners the TV space has to offer. So I’m delighted to welcome Caroline O’Neil, Caroline O’Neill is a profoundly deaf series producer and development executive with a background in Popular Factual, Specialist Factual, and Fact Ent. She co-runs the Facebook group Deaf and Disabled People in TV. She is a media trust screenskills mentor and is the Disability Officer for Bectu Unscripted.
Max [00:01:40] Diversity champion Marcus Rider also joins us. He is the recent author of ‘Access All Areas, the Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond’, a book he co-wrote with Sir Lenny Henry. And he’s also a visiting professor of Media Diversity at Birmingham City University. The Lenny Henry Centre is currently working with the BBC and Channel Four. Marcus is based in Beijing and is the Executive Producer of Online Media at Chinese financial publication Caixin Global.
Max [00:02:09] Andrew Roach is our final guest this week. Andrew runs Andrew Roach Talent, a dedicated talent management service that works with a range of majority disabled talent, including Britain’s Got Talent winner Lost Voice Guy, Gardener’s World presenter Mark Lane, and Under the Skin star and campaigner Adam Pearson.
Max [00:02:28] So we’re here to talk Diamond, the data of which came out a couple of weeks ago and has probably attracted more negative headlines than positive, I think I would argue. Caroline, were you disappointed with what you saw from the data or did you expect the shortfalls? These were shortfalls in mainly disabled off-screen talent, disabled on-screen talent, and off-screen talent for black, Asian and minority ethnic representation?
Caroline [00:02:55] So well for me, at the moment, it’s the only way of exploring any sort of data that we’ve got, it’s the only evidence really within the industry. So rather than sort of criticising the system, I think we really need to look at ways of making it work for all of us. What are the solutions going forward and how can more people sort of declare that disability? You know, in terms of like filling out the form, I need to be sort of like thinking more about the future, rather than picking it just to pieces. I think, you know, I’m not surprised by the figures that have just come out. We’ve seen the trend, it’s been a problem for a long time.
Caroline [00:03:31] I think with BAME, the drop out rate is just awful within the industry. We need to really work out what’s happening and stop it from happening. The same with disabled people. The problem is still there in terms of the industry. What are the solutions to that? And I think broadcasters are a big part of the problem, and the Indies as well, just because there’s fear and ignorance about how to actually talk to disabled people and deaf people. How to recruit us. I think ignorance as well. So lots of people don’t actually know the Equality Act 2010. They’re not aware of their legal obligations, and we need to solve that.
Max [00:04:08] Do you feel, Marcus, there’s obviously since, since around May or June of last year, there was a ‘industry reckoning’, as one would describe it, the death of George Floyd sparked the Black Lives Matter protests, pushed it forwards. The Diamond data ended on 31st July 2020. Since then, do you feel like broadcasters and production companies are engaging more positively? And can we expect to see a change?
Marcus [00:04:39] We are recording this on Wednesday the… What’s the date? The tenth? And, you know, two hours before you invited me on, to actually make this podcast, the announcement that Kamal Ahmed is, has been restructured out of the BBC’s news board. Which, maybe the BBC has got some master plan up its sleeve and, but right now, in the year of Black Lives Matter, in the year of, you know, less than a year after George Floyd’s death, the BBC News Board has gone from one person on it, to zero person of colour on it. And let us make sure we have the list. So if you look at 18 months, right, if you look at what’s happened at 18 months, Naga Munchetty, right, that was followed by… So Naga Munchetty, the BBC had to do a very public reversal after saying that it was wrong to call Donald Trump’s tweet racist. I mean, who now would possibly think that that could be a correct editorial decision?
Marcus [00:05:50] But it wasn’t just an editorial decision, it was an editorial decision that was signed by the entire News Board and Executive Board, right. So after it was criticised, there was a collective action by… So this was Naga Munchetty, this was eighteen months ago, this was then followed by the BBC News Board doubling down on the use of the N-word at breakfast time. Which is completely bonkers! I mean, let’s just be honest about it, right? Everybody makes mistakes. And so I’m not critical of a mistake being made. It was broadcast at the wrong time or whatever, but after that mistake was made to double down on it. You have a position where they are arguing that black journalists cannot go on Black Lives Matter marches. And then you have the position now, where the only non-white person on the News Board, it’s restructured so that they go.
Marcus [00:06:48] Now, what you have is that the BBC has done some wonderful stuff, right? There is no doubt about it. Small Axe, love it. There’s some other brilliant productions the BBC has done. You only have to look at a lot of the reports that Rianna Croxford has done. So the BBC produces some brilliant stuff. But, if you’re asking me, has there been a, you know, systemic change? Has there been some structural change? I’m not sure. Maybe there will be. I mean, the BBC is talking about this ‘£112 million over three years’ fund, so maybe there will be. Right. But right now, two hours… You know, I’m still reeling from the fact that just two hours ago, I heard that the one non-white member of the BBC News Board has been restructured off.
Max [00:07:40] Yeah, the timing does not seem great, and I think you’re right to bring that up and other issues, such as the N-word scandal as well from from a few months ago, again, regarding BBC News, might not be seen as showing great faith to, to drop the only non-white person from the Board. Although I think there are two people still to be hired who will go onto the board, both of which could be non-white. So, Andrew, what do you think about all of this? Do you see the broadcasters maybe more at fault than the Indies with regards these diversity fails, or how are you seeing that landscape?
Andrew [00:08:17] I think it’s really dangerous to assign the failure to one particular area. All I can tell you anecdotally, and I deal with both broadcasters and producers, and, as you said in the intro, the majority of my clients identify as being deaf or disabled. And through the last 12 to 18 months, I was really hopeful and various initiatives and discussions and panels and targets being set, we would then see a positive result, and particularly over the last 12 months, when, lo and behold, we’ve already proved as an industry we’ve become really accessible. And everyone can work in remote ways. But the reality is, and whether you look at the Diamond data or you look at basic crew research, which I have spent a lot of time doing myself, literally going through listings, it shows when it comes to deaf and disabled talent, not only are they not representing even half of the population percentage in the UK, but they are so devoid of opportunities across the board that I think we have to assign, you know, I don’t like a blame culture but in a way I think we’ve got to get down to addressing systemic ableism which exists in our industry.
Andrew [00:09:45] I should not be able, in the last two,three weeks, to look at 11 series across BBC, ITV, Channel Four, Sky, BBC Radio Four and Comedy Central, over 85 episodes of television and radio, over 300 guest spots, and only be able to identify six of those spots being filled by disabled people. And by the way, not by six disabled people, by five disabled people, because two of those spots are filled by one person. So that is how bad it is. And by the way, of those 11 series, six of them I think, at least, had no visible disability representation in them at all.
Andrew [00:10:29] According to research I’ve done, in the history of British television and radio, I can account for 62 people with credits who would identify as disabled. 62. 11 of those being comedians. So we need to stop talking about it, we need to stop doing events, we need to stop doing panels, we need to stop possibly doing podcasts, as lovely as it is to speak to all of you, and just get on with booking the talent, who are there. I’m all for training schemes, I’m all for bringing people through. But the reality is on and off screen, disabled talent, low and behold, exist at the moment, in the six years of running my agency, this week, I have managed to get the second disabled comedian I represent a try out, on a panel show. That is two in six years.
Max [00:11:19] Caroline, did you want to add something?
Caroline [00:11:21] I think you’ve been very generous in a sense, Andrew. Very generous. I think, you know, thinking about sort of the broadcasters, the people who are in charge, hiring and firing, and the Indies, I think they need to take more responsibility. Broadcasters need to be saying, right, there’s obviously a lack of on-screen and off-screen disabled and deaf talent. We really need to engage more. We know there are people out there. We know there’s a talented group, deaf and disabled people in TV. You know, there’s nearly six hundred members in that group from, right from entry level people, right to the top.
Caroline [00:11:56] So, you know, we need people to actually, like, join us and actually get engaged with us. I think, you know, the resource is there. I just find it completely ridiculous that we are still in this situation. The resources are there, that broadcasters and people can tap into. You know, we need to sort of think that, in terms of like training and knowledge, in terms of hiring people, the training schemes, they work well, they’re all well and good, but actually putting on somebody in a training scheme for sort of six months and then ‘bye-bye’ at the end of that, they’re just left on their own again.
Caroline [00:12:31] We need to actually create a more protected culture where we find these, this crucial talents are within deaf and disabled, or the minority groups that we can talk about, they all need to be given much more support to actually be nurtured and developed and move towards the top of the ranks. You know, I think it’s crucial that there’s not enough representation at the top of the industry. We need to keep opening that door and bringing those people up. We need to deal with that as a major issue. The broadcasters and the indies need to be more accountable for this behaviour.
Marcus [00:13:05] And I would just add to that that it’s atrocious that we can talk about these individuals. We need to be building critical mass, you know, because it’s only through critical mass that you can then change the culture. Otherwise you are just depending on this one person, you know. So the very fact that we can talk about, you know, we can actually count the number of disabled people, you know, is insane.
Andrew [00:13:31] The fact that we’re saying, oh, well, if Kamal Ahmed has gone, don’t worry, there might be another one coming along. You know, it’s, we need to be building critical mass, whether that’s for all the underrepresented groups, because it’s not until we build critical mass that we can change culture, and it’s not until we change culture that we can actually change the narratives and actually change what we see on our screens. We can’t be dependent on one individual and hope that the one deaf person will be able to bring everything through, or the one LGBTQ person or the one black woman will be able to bring everything through. We have to build critical mass.
Caroline [00:14:13] Absolutely. I completely agree with that. I think that’s something that I talk about a lot with talent managers, with whoever within the industry to be honest, deaf people and disabled people within TV. In terms of kind of like, you know, deaf people and disabled people, we need to do more to actually like put ourselves forward and educate people. I’m like, why? Why should we be doing this? If everybody is actually taking responsibility, you know, I’ve had to sort of take responsibility of this for myself throughout my career. But in terms of like doing my job, I’ve always had to explain, ‘OK, I’m deaf, and in terms of how to work with deaf, it’s this, this is just how you communicate’. It’s like the onus is always on me to do that. People actually need to educate themselves and take responsibility and then they can bring people up through the ranks in this industry.
Andrew [00:15:03] But also, I think, you know, we need to address intersectionality. I was looking at this the other day, in terms of disabled, deaf and disabled people of colour, on television, I mean, you know, I think, I think I managed to identify three. With, you know, a significant number of credits. Yeah, Shani Dhanda who I recently started working with, who’s been named in the BBC 100 Women List, who is a disabled woman of colour, you know, people should be all over me to get to Shani. You know, not- and actually, by the way, they should be doing that because she’s fantastic. End of.
Andrew [00:15:42] But we’re, and we’ve spoken about this, Shani and I, where does she see herself? I’ve had a client say to me who’s, who’s got considerable credits in respect to being a disabled person, but nowhere near the same as if they were a non-disabled person, has actually said to me in recent times, I feel like I have imposter syndrome because I’m only booked because I’m disabled, and then I’m never booked again. That’s how our industry makes disabled people feel. You know, and I don’t know if we’ve used the word yet, within this podcast discussion, but let’s just say it. Discrimination.
Andrew [00:16:20] If people are not being booked, who are good enough, consistently, it is discrimination. End of, that’s it. And I think as an industry, the moment that we can identify that, as ableism, particularly in relation to deaf and disabled people, address it, and be really open and honest about it the better. I mean, I have had some of the most Ableist things said to me by senior people within broadcasters, and producers, within the last 6 to 12 months that have ever been said to me. Now I don’t necessarily think those people have thought, ‘right before I say this to Andrew, I’m going to say the most Ableist thing I could ever say’. I don’t think that. But they still said it, which is even worse, because they don’t even realise. And that’s how bad it is.
Andrew [00:17:13] And, you know, as an agent who predominately represents deaf and disabled people, I’m sorry to say the commercial reality of it is, it’s not as it feels, particularly at the moment, it’s not easy, but commercially it’s very tough. It’s actually, in some ways not commercially sustainable. And that’s not right either.
Andrew [00:17:34] And the reality is that my clients don’t work, I don’t earn, but that’s because they’re not being afforded anywhere near the same opportunities as non-disabled people are. It’s just, you know, in a way, to go back to the original discussion we were having about Diamond, and I think Marcus is right, I don’t really know enough about the data, I can, I want to latch onto it cos I do feel that in some ways it is the only data we have, other than my very well researched data, which literally is going through IMDB and various things.
Andrew [00:18:11] But the trend is there and the reality is, in four years off-screen representation of disabled people has gone up by 0.3% and not only has it gone up by 0.3%, it went down in the second and third years and then went up again. On screen it’s gone up by 1.7%, I think. 1.7%, which by the way, is still 12.8% I think below the population percentage. And also, while I’m on it, why are we just doubling disability? Why is it okay to say ‘we’re just going to double disability’. You know, why’s that enough? You know, we’re talking about the largest minority group in the UK. In the world. Why is it ok just to aim at doubling? It just doesn’t make any sense to me and also I still struggle with why it’s only off-screen. Why is it not off and on-screen? I understand how with off-screen targeting there will raise opportunities, of course it will, and it’s really important. But why is it, why’s it not both? Are just so many questions, sorry to not answer them all.
Andrew [00:19:24] But you know, it just, it’s the crude nature of these statistics, show, quite openly, how bad it is. And not only how bad it is, but how bad it is we are improving it when the talent is there, they are ready, willing and able to work. Just book them.
Max [00:19:46] And I should say at this point that we worked together on an article last week, that the 0.3% increase in off-screen disabled representation would have had to be 4.5% in order for the broadcasters to hit their doubling disability target. Which runs out at the end of this year, and is very unlikely to be met now, I believe.
Max [00:20:09] But I wanted to discuss intersectionality a little bit more. Marcus, I know we’re losing you in a couple of minutes. So, so if I, if I turn to you first, I thought a couple of things that Andrew said were really interesting. Is the term ‘diversity’ a little bit unhelpful at the moment? I feel like diverse strands are often brought together when, when each has their own challenge. And does success or perceived success in one area almost negate success in other areas?
Marcus [00:20:40] I think ‘diversity’ isn’t a very useful term. I think we do need to start actually talking about racism, ableism, discrimination, and I also think we need to talk about representation. I think those are far clearer ideas that we can latch on to. Diversity is a very wishy washy term. I can understand why we adopted it, because it meant that we were allowed into certain rooms and certain discussions were had which weren’t had before, cos people were frightened of having those discussions, but we’re having those discussions now. And so I feel that the term ‘diversity’ has served its purpose. I say that as somebody who’s just published a book called ‘The Diversity Manifesto’. So I, I can see, you know, the flaw in my own argument. But at the same time, I think that my next book, I would like to call ‘Representation’ or I’d like to as I argue in the book, you know, we’re in the majority.
Marcus [00:21:41] You know, white, heterosexual, able bodied men make up 31% of the population in the whole of the UK. If you then look at regionality, they make up just 3.1%. So we make up, the people that we termed ‘diverse’, make up 96.9%. And yet we’re still perceived as this minority, you know, we’re still perceived as begging for scraps off the table. You know, if we want better representation, we the 96.9%, need to be represented. And we shouldn’t be relegated to diversity initiative.
Max [00:22:24] We’re losing Marcus. He’s gone. And then, and then there were three. Caroline, what do you think in terms of the intersectionality debate? I was speaking to Andrew a little bit last week about how the, the reporting of Diamond tended to focus on black and Asian and minority ethnic representation, possibly over disability representation. Is this something that you recognise as a problem and what can be done about it?
Caroline [00:22:55] Yeah, it is something that we’re actively talking a lot about at the moment, certainly within the group, deaf and disabled people in TV. And we’ve recognised, you know, this is an issue and how can we sort of pass it on to resolve it really? How can we resolve this issue? I’ve got a friend and colleague who himself is a deaf Asian director, and he’s worked in TV for many years now. He’s really good. He’s got a lot of potential. But for him as a deaf person and an Asian person, the discrimination, well, from both of those sectors, he’s actually decided to step back from this profession. There’s more to it than that. But essentially that’s what’s happened.
Caroline [00:23:34] And I was just so sad that we’ve lost somebody who was so astonishingly talented within the industry because of really the attitudes from people. It’s just ridiculous that people like that are actually leaving the industry. We actually need to find a way to address people who are falling through the gaps like this. It’s just crucial within the area that we try to sort of solve this. You know, they’re thinking, do I belong in that box? Do I belong in this box? It’s like maybe they belong in both camps, and that should be celebrated. You know, what they actually bring to the table is just gold dust. It’s amazing. In terms of filmmakers, production makers, documentary makers, what they can bring to the table is astounding.
Caroline [00:24:16] So I think going back to what Marcus said about diversity in that time, I do agree it’s a really wishy washy term, like you said. And I just worry that sometimes, you know, setting up these protected groups against each other, which can quite often happen, the word diversity, you know, you arrive at the table ready to kind of engage and realise actually, you know, this session, it isn’t for me. You know, this, this session that we’re talking about isn’t for deaf and disabled. It’s not for me, but because I’m part of like one of the minority groups, I think really all these protected groups should be supporting each other and championing each other and all of us working together so that we can actually elevate all of us up.
Andrew [00:24:56] Yeah, it’s a bit like saying, you know, I’ve had, cos i’m gay, a few people say, ‘oh, you’ll like so-and-so, they’re gay’. And I’m like, no, I can assure you I probably won’t, actually. But, you know, this, even on this I think, even within disability, there’s to use the word again, there’s ‘diversity’. You know, between visible, you know, invisible, Caroline and I were, since I got to know Caroline, had really interesting discussions about, you know, the deaf community in relation to disability. I was speaking to one of my clients earlier, Alan, who is autistic and about whether he identifies as disabled as a result of having a diagnosis of autism.
Andrew [00:25:43] It’s such a kind of interesting… For me, it’s about celebrating different. And, you know, and this is what I don’t understand, particularly in this culture and how we should be, how we can get on board with this representation. I think Marcus has used really, you know, the best word there, in a way of difference in all it’s different forms. And how, how we in an industry have got such a vital part to play, particularly for young people or actually for anyone really to see themselves as authentically portrayed and, you know, as a young gay man, you know, it was hugely important for me to be able to watch Queer As Folk.
Andrew [00:26:26] I mean, without question, one of the most defining thing I ever watched and suddenly thought, oh, wait a minute, it’s all right to be like this. You know, and, and that’s what I still worry about within the representation of disability, is even when it is done, you know, how authentic is it? You know, who’s actually been involved in it? Who’s actually made that decision. Who’s, who’s contributed.
Andrew [00:26:51] The fact that, Sia’s film, music, has been nominated for a Golden Globe should tell you all you need to know about, you know, representation of disability within film. It’s mind blowing to me. I started to watch a series on Netflix the other day and it was only somebody pointed out to me, there’s a character who’s a wheelchair user, this is a recently produced series, who’s not actually a wheelchair user. Just… And literally because it was on there, thought, they must be. Hadn’t even dawned on me they wouldn’t. But then somebody actually told me they aren’t, and I just, I cannot get my head around that.
Max [00:27:39] And Caroline, what what would you say the role of the coronavirus pandemic has been here in terms of the diversity push?
Caroline [00:27:48] That’s quite a complicated question and there’s a lot of responses to that. I think one thing that I will say is, we expected in terms of the uptake within disability, the figures, I expected that to go up, just because, you know, with working from home situation, it meant that it’s created almost an ideal situation for people, for disabled people, shall we say, I thought I’d be perfect almost as a solution to bring in, where we’re working remotely, you don’t have to worry about sort of mobility issues, wheelchair access, that sort of thing. But I’m actually quite disappointed with the results, because I know that a lot of the broadcasters, who had the disability schemes, they had to put a lot of them on hold because of the coronavirus. And that’s had quite a knock-on effect I have to say.
Max [00:28:35] Before we move on to our next and final segment, I should point out that project Diamond has stressed that it’s system wasn’t built for programme level data, in terms of some of the criticisms that have come its way. And I should also say that contributions to Diamond did increase from 600,000, to 750,000 over the past year.
Max [00:28:58] I wanted to move on to our final segment, which is ‘what we’ve been watching’, so I’d love to know what you guys have been watching on TV. Caroline. Do you want to go first?
Caroline [00:29:09] Oh my goodness. OK, I am really, really late to the party. I’ve been binge watching It’s A Sin, which, oh my goodness, it has completely heartbroken me. I was watching it last night and sobbing.
Max [00:29:25] Yeah, it’s, it’s incredible, isn’t it.
Caroline [00:29:27] Yeah, it really is. I think, I really loved the casting. It was just so authentic and Olly Alexander was just so astonishingly talented. Oh my gosh. It was a stunning programme. Really hard to watch but amazing.
Max [00:29:40] Russell T. Davis doing it, doing it once again. And Andrew, what have you been watching?
Andrew [00:29:45] So I have adored both series’ of Succession. I think probably one of the best written, directed and acted things I’ve ever seen. However, no disability representation. So that’s bad. As far as, far as I’m aware. And I just thought on every level it was insanely good. I have also, just funnily enough Caroline, finished watching It’s A Sin last night, and as much as I did appreciate it, and get it, I just I’m such a fan of Queer As Folk that I just cannot see anything above it.
Andrew [00:30:24] And that’s not to bring down It’s A Sin at all, because I thought so many of the acting performances were just incredibly good. My only wish about It’s A Sin, from a pacing point of view, maybe it was an availability thing, it just felt to me a wee bit at times a wee bit fast paced, and I’d have liked longer. I appreciate there’s probably other reasons beyond that in terms of people being available and, you know, production, filming schedules, etc, it was just something that I would love to have seen more of. But yeah, I did also think that was extremely, extremely good.
Caroline [00:31:01] Yeah, we can talk it out later over that, if you want Andrew.
Andrew [00:31:05] Oh, and Drag Race. Drag Race, all the time.
Max [00:31:08] Excellent, excellent stuff. Well, look, it’s been, it’s been such a pleasure, guys. Caroline O’Neill, Andrew Roach and Marcus Rider, who departed about 12 minutes ago. Thank you so much for coming on to the podcast. And hopefully we can welcome you again soon.
Caroline [00:31:23] Thank you so much.
Andrew [00:31:25] Thank you.
Max [00:31:29] Thank you for listening to the Broadcast Newswrap. I’m delighted to have welcomed campaigners Marcus Ryder, Caroline O’Neill and Andrew Roach to the Newswrap who’ve been speaking to me, Max Goldbart. This podcast was edited by Hannah Bowler and an audio transcription for the hard of hearing will be made available shortly after the podcast is published. You can check out past episodes of the Newswrap on Spotify and iTunes or on the website via www.broadcastnow.co.uk