Actor and writer Lenny Henry has called for broadcasters to ring-fence money to increase BAME representation in the TV industry.
Speaking at a diversity roundtable organised by culture minister Ed Vaizey today, Henry said the BBC could apply its nations and regions model to the issue which was designed to ensure the licence fee “accurately reflects the percentage of the population who pays”.
Henry argued that “structural change” is required to turn around a steep decline in the representation of Black and Minority Ethnic Groups in the industry - just 5.4% of the total workforce, according to Creative Skillset.
The roundtable, held at the House of Commons, was attended by senior broadcast executives including the BBC’s Danny Cohen and Sky’s Sophie Turner-Laing; representatives from industry bodies such as Directors UK, Pact and the BFI; plus parliamentarians across the political spectrum including Baroness Floella Benjamin, Baroness Oona King and Baroness Bonham-Carter.
Trevor Phillips, former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, revealed new research showing that of the 62 seats across Ofcom and other TV boards, BBC Trust trustee Sonita Alleyne was the only non-white executive.
There was unanimous support to improve industry-wide monitoring of diversity on- and off-screen, with the Creative Diversity Network expected to unveil a new benchmarking system in the Spring.
Attendees also acknowledged the need for broadcasters to be held to account on diversity targets, a point Ed Vaizey said was something for government to consider.
The minister for culture, communications and creative industries said he would be following up with the CDN but noted that the issue requires “more teeth” adding: “There is an accountability role for government to play, whatever that proves to be.”
Attendees are now considering Henry’s proposal “to use the very successful regional diversity model to address the lack of BAME diversity across the industry”.
The BBC introduced incentives to increase regional diversity in 2003, ring-fencing money to spend in specific nations and regions for both in-house and regional indies.
Henry suggested adapting that to BAME productions, encompassing employee spend, production spend and substantive base.
“Ring-fencing money allows in-house and independent BAME companies to compete for commissions with confidence, and employees can plan their careers,” he said. “We could explore possible tax breaks for BAME productions or adapt the current apprenticeship model to encourage employers to take on new BAME employees.”
Henry said broadcasters should employ BAME commissioners to “actively seek out BAME ideas” and address institutional and formal processes that can get in the way of such commissions.
He said the plan should be “industry-wide” and had particular relevance for Channel 4, which also employs regional commissioners.