Diversity at the BBC: At last, significant progress, but still a long way to go

On the basis of his last three months work on diversity, Davie looks like the person to ride to the rescue. The board should not ask Tim Davie to change horses now.

Simon Albury
25 June 2018

Screenshot: Netflix' 'Dear White People' trailer.

Last week the BBC published a ground-breaking report on diversity,

Reflecting the ethnic diversity of the UK within the BBC workforce – a report on Career Progression and Culture for BAME staff at the BBC’.

It is ground breaking, because for the first time the BBC is starting to recognise the problems it faces on BAME employment.

The report was produced in just three months by Tim Davie, CEO of BBC Worldwide and Director Global. At £682,000 a year, Davie is the BBC’s highest paid director and perhaps he deserves to be. He has delivered significant proposals and, given the short timescale, an unexpected depth of understanding.

As we shall see, Davie has more to learn, much more needs to be done and his report contains flaws and fudges. The flaws and fudges can be put right, and need to be, but the flaws and fudges are outweighed by what is good and new.

First phase

The best news is that Davie makes clear this is just the start and not the finish. In his Foreword he says, “I hope that it represents a significant first step and a continuing focus on increasing the diversity of those who lead and work across the BBC.”

At the end, the report says, “These recommendations conclude the first phase of a bigger piece of work that needs to be done.” It concludes a dedicated team is needed, with the right resources, expertise and knowledge and it should report to the BBC Board in September.

It also says the next phase needs a new project sponsor. That would not be good.

Before joining the BBC in 2005, Davie held senior positions in PepsiCo. People who have met him say his commercial background gives him a can-do drive that is rare in BBC executives. As Acting Director General, for 5 months from November 2012, Davie impressed politicians, at the height of the Saville and Newsnight McAlpine debacle, with an authoritative performance before the Commons Culture Committee, and impressed BBC executives with his brisk results-orientated leadership in meetings. Davie should be asked to stick with diversity.

Political threat

In 2022, the new BBC Charter says that government will undertake a mid-term review. Although the review will be primarily focused on BBC governance and regulatory arrangements, the government has been clear that issues relating to BBC diversity will be considered as part of that review process. The BBC has quite a short window to demonstrate it can come good on diversity.

Last Monday (June 18) both DCMS Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, and Damian Collins, the influential chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee told a Voice of the Viewer & Listener meeting that diversity was a priority and that much more needed to be done. Some senior BBC executives recognize the licence fee could be threatened, if it can’t do better on diversity.

A good start (Part 1)

The Davie report is a good start. Its main recommendations are:

  1. By the end of 2020 the Executive Committee and Divisional Senior Leadership Teams to each have at least two BAME members.
  2. Introduce a policy that ensures shortlists for all jobs at Band E and above include at least one BAME person.
  3. Dramatically increase BAME representation across our interview panels backed by performance monitoring.
  4. All development and leadership programmes to have significant BAME representation as part of its overall cohort. Inclusive leadership should be added to part of all leadership programmes.
  5. Accountability for Diversity and Inclusion targets and BAME career progression should be incorporated into senior leadership team objectives and progression reviews. Progress should be outlined as part of future annual reports. Build a solid and sustainable BAME mid- and senior-leadership pipeline. As part of this, there should be development programmes for candidates, backed by robust succession planning across the BBC. This should be in place by the end of the financial year.
  6. The Executive Committee should undertake a review of staff rotation to broaden the experience and knowledge base and explore what else can be done to make the BBC workforce more agile.
  7. Develop specific action plans based on further analysis of divisions with less than 10% BAME representation or poor employee survey results to ensure issues are identified and action plans are put in place including, Radio, Newsrooms, Newsgathering, English Regions and the World Service.
  8. Cultural awareness training should be compulsory for all team managers. This should be in addition to the current mandated Unconscious Bias training programme.
  9. The BBC should introduce a “Statement of Intent” on Diversity and Inclusion. All staff would be required to abide by it. The statement should be published alongside the BBC’s Annual Report.

Some BBC staff tell me that after years of frustration, they now feel more optimistic. In time, these initial recommendations should deliver a more positive working environment and encourage internal progression for BAME people already in the BBC. Alone, they will not be enough to drive diversity.

Fudges and flaws

The report still ducks the issue of the % of BAME people in creative roles making programmes for the BBC’s UK audiences. This is key to the delivery of the BBC public purpose of reflecting, representing and serving the UK’s diverse communities.

In his own Foreword, the BBC’s Head of Diversity, Tunde Ogungbesan, continues to trot out the BBC data that has led to complacency:

“ in 2016 when we launched our Diversity and Inclusion strategy we set a BAME target of 15% for our workforce and our leadership. …. We have made substantial progress towards our workforce targets but we have so much to do to reflect the UK in our leadership; from our Executive Committee to our divisional boards.”

In fact, BBC Chairman, Sir David Clementi, responding to the charge of complacency, told the April Voice of Viewer & Listener conference,

“On ethnicity, we have a very clear BAME target of 15%. We have actually met it – but I don’t think we are anything like complacent because we have met it across the board but not in our senior leadership group. Across the board we have 15% BAME media representation but in the senior leadership group we have about 11%.”

But the issue is not just senior leadership. The detailed data released with the BBC Annual Report shows that fewer than 10% BAME people work in the UK on programmes for UK audiences. This still remains hidden in the detail of the new document. It does admit:

“The highest proportion of BAME employees are currently found in the Professional Service and World Service Group areas. Figures in the Nations and Regions are very low even though many BBC locations are in cities and towns with high BAME populations. Numbers of BAME employees in the creative areas are also low”.

BBC may be acknowledging these key issues – but it is not prepared to share the relevant data. Since we don’t know the bases the BBC is starting from we will be unable to measure whatever progress the BBC might make in these areas. BAD! Since we don’t know the bases the BBC is starting from we will be unable to measure whatever progress the BBC might make in these areas. BAD!

This lack of transparency is a guarantee of continuing diversity spin and fudge. The BBC needs to come clean on the detailed underlying data.

Programme Diversity Data

Programme Diversity Data last year received £3.787 million from the public as licence fee revenue. This should require a greater level of transparency. When I ask BAME people working on BBC programme, how many other BAME people are working alongside them, their answers don’t match the BBC’s sketchy diversity claims.

The evidence I am getting is unsystematic, anecdotal but consistent. It is now time for the BBC to tell us the simple % of BAME people working on-screen and off-screen on programmes and series. The BBC knows. Why can’t we know? If there is a hurdle, Davie needs to sweep it away.

Rooney rule

The second recommendation, including a BAME person in some shortlists, appears to be a version of the Rooney Rule. In 2015, the Equality and Human Rights Commission/Ofcom report “Thinking outside the box” provided “guidance for the television broadcasting sector on what action can lawfully be taken to increase diversity..”.

The guidance said,

“Under British law, places cannot be reserved on shortlists or guaranteed interviews offered to some people from certain protected groups (sometimes called the ‘Rooney Rule’ after the scheme running in the US), as this would unlawfully discriminate against others (unless the recruitment relates to a disabled person).”

We must hope that applying the Rooney Rule has become like possessing a small marijuana spliff – technically against the law but not something you will be done for.

Ring-fenced funds

One thing that is not against the law is ring-fenced funds. The same EHRC/Ofcom report made it clear that you won’t be done for ring-fenced funds, that these can be legal and could be applied.

There is no doubt people and companies follow the money. The impact of regional ring funding shows this. Ring-fenced funds would work. As part of the next phase, the BBC needs to look at how it could use ring-fenced funds to drive diversity.

Tim Davie needs to know the history. Four years ago, in March 2014, Lenny Henry proposed “ring fenced funding’ to drive BAME employment. He argued that to address under-representation of the Nations and Regions, the BBC said “they would spend 50% of their money outside of the M25; and for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland they went further, promising them that the proportion of programme spend in each nation, would at least match that nation’s percentage of the UK population. They set firm targets and even set quotas of a minimum amount of programmes they were going to commission from each nation and region.”

This led to “a 400% increase in the number of network programmes produced in the English regions. By 2016 over half of network spend will be made out of London. In just two years’ time  (2016) the amount of network spend in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should accurately reflect the size of the population there.”

Henry proposed a similar approach to address the under-representation of BAME people with a “ring fenced budget” for BAME productions. A BAME production would have to meet two of the following criteria.

“A) At least 50% of the production talent (i.e. not on-screen talent) by cost must be Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic. The production staff will be self-declaring about their ethnicity – self-declaration is a common principle in both police, health and other government monitoring of BAME statistics.

B) The production company must be 30% BAME controlled, and/or 30% of senior personnel involved in the production in question must be BAME.

And C) At least 50% of on screen talent by cost must be Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic.”

Eighteen months later, Charlotte Moore, then Controller BBC One, explained why the BBC didn’t think ring-fenced funds were a good idea. Her detailed arguments and exactly why they didn’t stand up can be found in Campaign for Broadcasting Equality evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee, which the Lords published on 15 December 2015.

In short, Charlotte Moore said the “holistic” the solutions that the BBC was offering up would bring real change. Well, now we know they haven’t, even though the BBC won’t let us know the data.

I hear that some BBC insiders think that Charlotte Moore is having enough trouble with the new drive to the Nations and Regions and bringing in this BAME employment driver would be a step too far. How much longer is the BBC going to treat BAME employment as a second order issue?

The BBC’s £1billion diversity gap

Last year the new BBC Charter came with a new clause, Article 14, which requires diversity in both internal and external supply of BBC “output and services.” 

BBC external supply amounts to £1 billion annually. Last year, £433 million was spent with the independent production sector, and hundreds of millions more with rights holders, performers, talent directors, production resources and musicians. External supply was outside Tim Davie’s initial terms of reference.

In March, Matt Hancock left the Oxford Media Convention in no doubt that he wanted to see diversity in BBC external supply, telling delegates “being transparent about where the production £ goes is incredibly important.”

It is not clear how the BBC plans to encourage and monitor diversity in external supply. As a first step, it should require the BBC’s super indies suppliers to comply with Ofcom “Guidance” Diversity in Broadcasting”.

The Guidance requires:

  • Encouragement of diversity must be embedded in organisations and led from the top
  • Collection of statistics to monitor employee characteristics
  • Setting diversity targets
  • Ensuring fair recruitment practices

This should be a commissioning precondition for super indies who currently receive such a significant proportion of licence fee funds. With the enhanced team and resources Davie proposes for diversity issues, in September we should be able to learn how the BBC plans to tackle its £1 billion diversity gap.

A good start (part 2)

In only 3 months, Tim Davie, a man with no apparent previous interest in diversity has come a long way. He must be congratulated. As Davie says, “it does represent significant first step” and as the report recognises, the recommendations only conclude “the first phase of a bigger piece of work that needs to be done.”

The BBC is in a panic over the rise of providers like Netflix and Amazon. Six weeks ago, I visited a sixth form college as a contributor to the “Speakers in Schools” programme. I ended up talking informally with a group of BAME teenagers. “What do you watch on television?” I asked, using what I was to learn was archaic language.  

They all told me they watched Netflix and “Dear White People” was their favourite programme. The BBC complains Netflix and Amazon have too much money but these young people weren’t watching Netflix because it had more money. They were watching “Dear White People”, which deals with racial tensions in a fictitious Ivy League College. They were watching “Dear White People” because it spoke to their interests, as BAME young people with ambitions to go to university, in a way no BBC programme does. They were watching “Dear White People” because it spoke to their interests, as BAME young people with ambitions to go to university, in a way no BBC programme does.

In a speech to the European Broadcasting Union, also last week, James Purnell, the BBC’s Director of Radio, declared that the BBC was facing an “existential threat” because young people spent more time watching Netflix than BBC terrestrial TV or iPlayer. Purnell said the BBC was for everyone. “Everyone benefits because everyone pays. And everyone pays so everyone must benefit.”

If the BBC had recognised this earlier, it might have taken diversity issues more seriously. It might have avoided the existential threat and the risk to the licence fee. On the basis of his last three months work on diversity, Davie looks like the person to ride to the rescue. The board should not ask Tim Davie to change horses now.

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