Diversity Initiatives in UK Media

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

 

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FutureLearn Course – Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism

This morning I signed up to an 6 week online course, which starts on the 16th of January 2017. The course is run on the Future Learn platform, is completely free and entitled ‘Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism‘. It should take only 3 hours a week, so I’m hoping to fit it in without too much bother.

The course seems interesting as it explores the British Empire through 6 themes;

  1. money
  2. violence
  3. race
  4. religion
  5. gender and sex
  6. propaganda

Having read the lead educator, Richard Toye’s blog post, ‘Why is the British Empire still so controversial?’ , highlighted as a taster for the course, I was hooked in by the focus on both the historical and documented Empire, it’s continuing colonial legacies (which extends longer than you may think) but most of all by the notion of ‘informal empire’.

For too long as a British-born, Muslim woman of South Asian descent,the ability to label, structure and vocalise all the stories, histories and continuing ripples that I see as a large messy uneven web has been so damn hard. The connection to web technologies has in part helped, but also made it a little difficult. Though I now definitely know more, and I’m able to connect to more data and refer to more anecdotal evidence and narratives, lets face it the colonial capitalistic patriarchal carnival just continues. As I sit a little overwhelmed and unsure of how best to attack the many problems I see before me. While simultaneously forging my way through contemporary society and it’s many messed up unfolding scenarios that I can trace back to historical legacies that allowed some to hold power of others. Then justify this power through questionable systems. Systems that allowed people, lands and traits to be classified, homogenised for the purposes of promotion/defamation and then this new “logics” to be legitimised as “rationales”, interwoven with the scientific, cultural, political and social advancements of the world in a great many directions. Some directions brought great worth to some of the Empire’s subjects and some directions a great deal of pain.

I know for a experiential fact I am not alone in what I perceive. In my feelings that I live in a society unequal towards too many and in so many ways. That I am both part of a global village, a global identity, a great big society but also shut out from it. A society that refuses to acknowledge the many doors it shuts in our faces, the many anxieties and insecurities it induces and the many hoops it lines up for everyone to always jump through. Whilst continually measuring our progresses, putting us under increased surveillance, gathering so much data about us that we tend to see and project ourselves in terms of narrow descriptions. This feeling is felt across many, many fault lines of ‘diversity’, many tribes constructed through ‘data classification’ and throughout the length and breadth of this country (as well as in various parts of our historically colonised world).

You could argue that these tools extends to out online environments.  Online platforms could be fooling us into thinking we are both a consumer and a producer, a spectating observer as well as a fundamental cultural constructer, however is it not just another type of social carnival? A virtual one that looks to be a revolution but only projects and protects the very people served historically by colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism?

 

Year 2021.. Or so it begins

-scene-

Year 2021

The world is a different place. A place of Cultural creators. Cultural tasters. Cultural dictators. Where it is your link to belief that assigns where you reside. Where birth-right is the only thing that is certain and right. No more mobility. No more integrating. No trust. No hope. In short the world of status quo and neo-colonial control.. Or rather the struggle for control.

The green, green lands of Blightly have been touched severely by years of tension, civil unrest and unsound policy making. Until the landmark year of 2020, August 2020 to be precise.

But most of all a place where culture has ripped away at all that could be, could ever have been and is now used to discourage any integration, mixing or appropriation.. Unless a case is made and upheld in the secular centres of the British Isles.
In the midst of it all. The laptop chimes, beh-beh-buehmm .. those Skype ringtones are old and classic. Though Zaika makes a mental note for the millionth time this month about changing it after this call, she already knows she most likely, probably, most definitely won’t. She can’t seem to pin down what it is, familiarity, nostalgia, laziness or what, but that sound.. That silly old-school bubbley logo, she patched in 18 months ago, that animates round and round.. Buzzing over that S. All of it. Everything. Makes her entire body beam with delight, her life for one brief moment seems light. Lighter than the beams of golden speckled beams shining through the french dormer windows.. Catching all sorts of hazy transient bits of fluff in their nurturing rays. Enveloping her cold pert breast, warming her nipples into some form of biological submission. Making her feel at one and at a loss, simultaneously. Her life is not her own. Her life is not a whole.

All this and more she thinks in the 1 minute and 45 seconds she can bear the ringing sound coming from her comically tall looming white Ikea desk. With the fluid movement of someone who has performed this task a million times, Zaika pushes her slender, naked form off the floor. Her knees and toes taking most of force as they act like fulcrums, while her rough fingers reach out to the soft black shawl, on top of which she had been sat in absorbed contemplation. As her body turns the 65 degree angle needed to silence the monotonous ringing that has faded into the patchwork of her life sounds, Zaika has managed to drape the shawl loosely but competently around herself. Managing to even pin the ends tightly around her face, to build the illusion of constant observance to protocol. Just in time to answer the call to her young overseas nephew.

“Bore da, Yayah”
“Asa’laam walaykum Khala”
“Walaykum Asa’laam Yayah, how are you doing?”

Oh this call is not going to go well she thinks, already her young 11 year old nephew’s eye have narrowed with the intensity of her mother’s. She wonders what sermon will be filtered to her in today’s conversation, she has already dissected the 15 seconds of interaction and found herself to be be seen as wanting. If only she’d just smiled happy and allowed him to begin the conversation. She mutters a hurried prayer to God Allah that her constant interaction down at the centre will at least carry her pakistani and arabic verbal skills through the next 25 minutes. Perhaps for once she can bring some pride to them, and leave a call feeling loved. Her eyes swell a little with tear.. As a flash-forward of herself looms large in her mind’s eye. Zaika is laing naked on the flower, curled up against a hot water bottle and teddy.. Crying like a broken water-works doll.