BBC3’s last 18 months as a TV channel offer a useful timeframe

BBC3 was the talk of the industry this week – which meant that the International Women’s Day (IWD) lunch hosted by Broadcast and Women in Film & TV provided some light relief and a chance to gossip.

Hopefully my use of the word gossip doesn’t offend anyone (all news journalists love a gossip, irrespective of their gender), and as one of just three men among 94 guests at the lunch, I found myself picking my words carefully. What was significantly easier was reaffirming publicly Broadcast’s commitment to supporting women in the TV industry, particularly on-screen representation.

Oona King doorstepped me from the stage. She asked, with her tongue only half in her check, whether as a middle-class white male I intended to row back from former editor Lisa Campbell’s work on the issue.

She needn’t have worried. Broadcast remains fully supportive of attempts to make the TV industry a fairer, more open and equitable place – and we hope to contribute to those efforts wherever possible, whether they address gender, ethnicity, disability or social class.

That’s why it was such a relief to see the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) acknowledge that it needs a shot in the arm to become more effective.

Its carefully worded statement about the need for a “robust support structure” was really a statement of the obvious. For the CDN to become a genuine agent of change, it needs a heavyweight chief executive who can fight for its goals at the top end of the industry without other distractions. A two-year chairship passed from broadcaster to broadcaster has not cut it.

The CDN could do worse than look to the straight-talking King, who at the IWD lunch heralded the progress made by the Expert Women campaign – but admitted “the situation is still shit”.

Despite her assessment, there is finally a widespread positive vibe about diversity, which the CDN has also registered. It identified an “enormous amount of shared commitment, ownership and energy across the industry” – which means the time to act is now.

We’ve used the 2014 Broadcast Indie Survey to ask the production community about diversity for the first time and will reveal the results next week. Hopefully the responses will stimulate further debate – and some genuine progress.

Which takes us back to BBC3, and specifically Ash Atalla’s quick-witted Newsnight comments. He flagged that the channel is the corporation’s most diverse, and ending its TV presence will make the BBC “whiter, older and more middle-class”.

The challenge for the BBC will be to prove him wrong. BBC3 will stop broadcasting in 18 months’ time, which gives the corporation time to improve its diversity across the board, as it has pledged it will.

For the BBC, and for the whole of the industry, the clock is ticking.

Chris Curtis is editor of Broadcast