This is a quick post rounding up some of the diversity initiatives, keynote speeches and policy document links. These are ‘texts’ I’ve come across when exploring the recent changes being fought for and advocated regarding diversity, representation and changes to UK broadcasting. All of them are publicly available, but I collate them here with a view to mapping out the contemporary terrain of UK broadcasting. The combination of governmental lobbying with industry involvement (and petitioning), is arguably creating new frameworks to improve the UK media ecology. Media ecology is a term to denote the study of media, through looking at the technology that media consists of, the communication that occurs through it and how they affect human environments.
However there is still a tendency within New Media scholarship that situate these changes, termed as political or national as belonging “In Real Life”, as though they do not touch upon or progress all media environs or have an impact globally. Especially as the driving force of many of these changes to the UK broadcasting, is under the banner of ‘Diversity’, a theme concerning identity/ies that resonate across global diasporas. Diasporas that are increasingly becoming connected through ‘cyberia’¹, cognisant of their history and practices and communicating for understanding and change.
A couple of years ago, in 2014, I fervently followed Lenny Henry’s call for action and diversity. Henry launched a petition to affect change through parliament, to boost the number and positions of workers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, or else there would be a mass boycott of the licence fee. In short, action was called for. Meaning significant changes needed to be made and promoted, made visible, through lobbying the then culture minister Ed Vaizey. Here’s an article by Tara Conlan on The Guardian, which also showcases the “call to action” video that was sent out. A video that collects and projects narratives around how “diversity” or rather differences are encountered by media professionals who are marked as different in the industry. Started up in April 2014. This change came off the back of published polls and research, whose findings prompted calls for ‘media regulators to be more vigilant in addressing coverage of combustible subjects such as immigration and race.’² The poll by the Runnymede Trust found that ’78 per cent of respondents of all ethnic backgrounds believe that media portrayal of minorities encourages discrimination’². The media is important to people across the world, as it gives people a sense of who they are, what they’ve been and who they can become. In that vein the people across the media industries, within all positions came together to be visible in their calls for change toward media institutions and governments.
A few months later in 2014, ’50 leading creative figures’ sent an open letter to the BBC director general, Tony Hall and the executives of ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB – in short the broadcasting corporations that oversee our great media institutions. Articles here, and here. This time however, the call for change was clear. Dismayed at the numbers (5% of employees in creative industries are BAME despite making up 12.5% of population), the call was to ring-fence money to create a stable environment for BAME talent both behind and on screen. To increase the quality of programming. A similar economic framework exists to fulfil programming coming from outside of the London area, but here again these industry professionals feel the focus is on quantity, or ‘box-ticking’ perhaps, rather than good-quality creative productions.
Now, lets be clear the pace of change has been slow. But by placing spotlights on the lack of diversity in media institutions, across the UK and even in the US, progress is arguably being made. It’s significant that the changes are being called for in the two culturally imperial centres of the world, the US and the UK. All of which reached mediated peak in 2016, so very recently. We’ve seen the ‘#OscarsSoWhite’ campaign, the ‘#BritsSoWhite‘ campaign, ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ – all of these requests from media environments, themselves communicated through mediation and technology show how identity has become a salient problem that must be countered with.
At the beginning of 2016, Idris Elba was invited by MP Tessa Jowell to give a keynote address Parliament on Diversity in the Media, full video of the address is here , a transcript that omits certain things is here. Also, an article by Paul Revoir at The Guardian that gives an overview and contextualising Elba’s career alongside other British talent, who feel the UK media industry needs change is here. Though the focus seems to be on celebrities, or the most visible a number of other persons have also got together to enact change. A debate occurred in parliament in April, 2016, though I must note it seems sparsely attended.
The tying together of Government and British media broadcasting has been there since the inception. But as the government resolves to make key changes and monitor our traditional media industries for the sake of equality, the key market of “new media” is often seen as a separate entity over which no control can be exerted. Despite the fact that the UK government is moving a number of legislation through Parliament that has affects upon the overall media ecologies around us, and will no doubt have repercussions on representation, connections and communication for years to come.
¹ J. Dean (2011) Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics in Cultural Politics (Vol 1: 1 ; pp 51-74). Berg.
² I.Burrell (2014) ‘Media coverage of ethnic minority Britons ‘promotes racism’ in The Independent. Thursday 9 January 2014. Link