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BBC Diversity – getting through The Moral Maze

"This story starts with an invitation to appear as witness on “The Morality of Diversity” in the BBC Radio 4 “The Moral Maze” series, presented by Michael Buerk..."

lead lead lead Eno Alfred Adeogun. All rights reserved.

This story starts with an invitation to appear as witness on “The Morality of Diversity” in the BBC Radio 4 “The Moral Maze” series, presented by Michael Buerk. The programme describes itself as “Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining moral issues behind one of the week’s news stories.”

The story doesn’t quite end with this – when I wanted to give an example of BBC failure to recognise BAME merit:

Albury: ‘Can I give you an example?’

Buerk: ‘No you can’t…

Albury: ‘If I can’t give you an example, I might as well leave – if you can’t deal with facts?’

Buerk: ‘I keep repeating, we haven’t got somebody from the BBC to answer that thing, so you have made your point.’

Albury: ‘But the BBC know what I’m going to say * – it’s a waste of time.  I am giving you examples and you are refusing to hear them.’

Outside the studio, I tweeted: 

Why did the BBC invite me to discuss diversity and then refuse to let me give an example of BBC ignoring BAME merit or quote from BBC Board member Tim Davie’s diversity report?’ 

The Mail on Sunday reported: “I was muzzled on Moral Maze for trying to criticise the BBC's record on diversity, says an equality campaigner who appeared on the Radio 4 show”

A former Ofcom bigwig emailed me:

“Frankly I too was amazed at how shoddy a production it was, not only the ridiculous attempt to prevent you offering even modest criticism of the BBC, but the fact that their level of thoughtfulness, insight or willingness to debate seriously never got above that of the lounge bar loudmouth. Michael Buerk, a man I have admired in the past, sounded bored and mentally off duty. 
I suppose like many people of my background I have slipped into an assumption along the lines of: ‘All broadcasters are now well aware of how hot an issue diversity is and how much scrutiny they’re under. Things are definitely heading in the right direction and doors are being successfully opened everywhere’. 

In fact, I have said words to that effect pretty regularly over the past few months. I suspect your view is very different and I reckon you’re right and I’m wrong... there needs to be more heavy and sustained booting of a lot of those doors before they’ll start to budge.”

So, what’s the story?

The beginning 

It all began with an email from a researcher:

Dear Simon,

I’m looking for possible contributors to our Radio 4 programme The Moral Maze tomorrow (live from BH London, 8pm Weds July 25th).

Our topic for debate is ‘diversity’. A universally-available, collectively-funded service, like the BBC or the police force, is only legitimate if it represents and serves all sections of society – ideally in the right proportions. Unless we measure and adjust diversity, the argument goes, we cannot address the unfair power balance in society.  But is diversity a moral good in itself?  It doesn’t necessarily make outcomes better or fairer. Why should we strain for diversity of gender or ethnicity in a workforce but not for diversity of intelligence or of political opinion?

That’s the territory. If you’d like to join the discussion, please give me a call.

Best wishes,

Peter

If “That’s the territory”, that’s my territory. I gave Peter a call. I told him, I’d just returned from a visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, I was fired up, that for me diversity in publicly funded organisations was about Justice – publicly funded organisations shouldn’t get the money if they didn’t’ have the mix.

Peter, playing devil’s advocate, put some provocative statements. I’d started as a television researcher 49 years ago. I knew Peter wanted to know if I could string words together and I thought he needed to know what I’d say on the show.

Peter concluded the BBC would like me to be a witness on the programme. The topic would be Merit versus Diversity and I would have about 7 minutes. I said I’d do it. I thought a witness would be required to give evidence. I started reviewing my evidence.

The evidence

1. BBC ignoring BAME merit

From Peter’s email, it seemed clear I needed to address the issue of Merit v Diversity in the BBC. I knew the BBC had ignored merit in BAME talent, failed to recognise it when it was under its nose, and had failed to develop BAME talent when it had it. I reminded myself of some clear examples.

Nima Elbagir, for example. Over the past seventeen years, the BBC has often said it needs more BAME talent. Nima Elbagir is a black Muslim woman who speaks fluent Arabic. In 2008, she picked up two Foreign Press Association awards and was shortlisted for Royal Television Society Young Journalist of the Year award. 

I used to run the RTS. I was running it in 2008. The BBC always has a lot of people at the RTS TV Journalism Awards. In 2008, they will have seen her work and heard her name but, despite the BBC’s enthusiasm for greater diversity, none of them was interested enough to seek her out. The BBC never approached Nima Elbagir. CNN did.

Just 8 years later, in 2016, working for CNN, Nima Elbagir won RTS Specialist Journalist of the Year. The RTS jury praised her “determination, bravery and deep humanity.” 

Nima Elbagir had also been among the three nominations for RTS Television Journalist of the Year 2016 alongside Sky’s Alex Crawford and Channel 4’s Matt Frei. No one from the BBC made the cut that year.

Nima Elbagir is a clear example of the BBC not recognising BAME talent when it was right under its nose.

Nima Elbagir with RTS Specialist Journalist of the Year Award. Richard Kendall. RTS. All rights reserved.

Marcus Ryder.  For eight years, Marcus Ryder worked as Executive Producer BBC Current Affairs Scotland. He wasn’t getting anywhere, despite picking up a fistful of awards, including:

1. Winner British Journalism Awards 2015 – Panorama “Catch Me If You Can” on drugs in sport, including Nike’s involvement
2. Winner Royal Television Society Current Affairs 2015 – “The Dog Factory” which helped change the law in how dogs are raised and sold in the UK
3. Winner BBC Ruby Awards Best Investigation 2014 – Panorama “The Innocent Serial Killer” into a serious miscarriage of justice of a convicted serial killer.
4. Winner Foreign Press Awards 2012 – “Who Stole The Jerseys” investigation into football corruption.

In Scotland, Marcus Ryder was responsible for running twenty to thirty people. In August 2016, Marcus Ryder quit the BBC and the next month turned up in Beijing as: Chief International Editor China Global Television Network Digital

From Beijing, Marcus Ryder now oversees several hundred journalists, in a bigger job, for a bigger outfit, with a huge reach. China Global Television Network has a total revenue of $6.6 billion which is larger than CNN and the BBC.

From his own analysis of the data in the latest BBC Annual Report, Marcus Ryder concluded:

“In 2018, the BBC figures reveal that BAME staff were more likely to leave the BBC than their white counterparts, and even fewer received severance pay when they leave. Most I know have literally just handed in their notice and left, fed up with the lack of progress and glass ceilings.”

Marcus Ryder is an example of the BBC failing to develop BAME talent when it had it. 

Marcus Ryder. RTS. All rights reserved.

Eno Alfred. Eno Alfred was raised in Barnet. She was one of the few students from her Academy who made it to a Russell Group University, LSE. At LSE, Eno was recruited by the Columbia School of Journalism and was given a couple of scholarships for its MA course in New York. Eno specialized in broadcasting. Columbia provides the world’s top training. When you leave Columbia, you’re ready to go – and Eno went!

Eno Alfred worked at the United Nations, The Daily Beast, The Atlanta Post, Fortune magazine and Global Trade Review. Like many black people with a commonwealth heritage, Eno aspired to work for the BBC. Eno applied for fifteen jobs at the BBC:

Broadcast journalist (online news), 

 

broadcast journalist, 

 

assistant producer (children's presentations, CBBC & Cbeebies),

 

press officer, 

 

broadcast journalist (news online, Sheffield), 

 

broadcast assistant, 

 

broadcast journalist (BBC breakfast), 

 

production co-ordinator, 

 

assistant producer pool (BBC Children's), 

 

monitoring journalist, 

 

trainee studio manager (news programmes operations), 

 

production co-ordinator, 

 

assistant producer (The One Show), 

 

production trainee scheme,

 

BBC North opportunities pool.

Despite Eno’s outstanding training and experience, she was not once called for an interview. 

Eno then tried her luck in Nigeria, where her parents were born. Within a year she was a presenter on Good Morning Nigeria and a reporter/producer on “30 minutes,” an investigative strand.

Eno has married. She is now Eno Adeogun and works for Premier Christian Radio.

At the BBC, The Moral Maze falls under ‘Religions and Ethics’. BBC Religions and Ethics likes to win Jerusalem Awards for “original, engaging Christian broadcasting.” Two days before this Moral Maze, Eno Adeogun was shortlisted for a Jerusalem Award for her documentary “Egypt Church Bombings: One Year On", visiting Egypt on the first anniversary of the twin suicide bomb attacks at churches on Palm Sunday.

Of these three examples, Eno’s was the story I had decided to tell on The Moral Maze. It was the evidence I was banned from giving on the failure of the BBC to recognise BAME merit when it was banging on the door.

2. Merit versus diversity

In 2007, a McKinsey report demonstrated that research made it increasingly clear that companies with more diverse workforces perform better.    

I wasn’t sure this would impress on The Moral Maze. I’d trotted out my own arguments before but I thought I should see what others were saying.

MIT. Via Google, the first thing I found was an excellent piece “Diversity or Merit” from MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world’s leading universities.  

The author, Chris Peterson, an Assistant Director at MIT Admissions, argued convincingly that Diversity or Merit was a false dichotomy. Bingo! I thought “false dichotomy” would be a good term for the Moral Maze. 

Peterson quoted what MIT told high school students:

“When we admit a class of students to MIT, it's as if we're choosing a 1,000-person team to climb a very interesting, fairly rugged mountain  – together. We obviously want people who have the training, stamina and passion for the climb. At the same time, we want each to add something useful or intriguing to the team, from a wonderful temperament or sense of humor, to compelling personal experiences, to a wide range of individual gifts, talents, interests and achievements. We are emphatically not looking for a batch of identical perfect climbers; we are looking for a richly varied team of capable people who will support, surprise and inspire each other”.

Peterson’s article concluded:

“when it comes to each applicant, we are not looking for merit or diversity. We are looking for merit and diversity.


It's not either/or.


It's yes/and.”

In the programme I only had time for one short quote from MIT: 

“we are looking for a richly varied team of capable people who will support, surprise and inspire each other.” 

Next, I found “Merit vs Equality? The argument that gender quotas violate meritocracy is based on fallacies”. The author was Professor Rainbow Murray, at Queen Mary University School of Politics and International Relations. The summary said:

“The case against gender quotas often involves the argument of merit. The logic is that we should recruit on the basis of merit, not gender; quotas recruit on the basis of gender and so are by definition unmeritocratic. This is a myth used to justify the privilege-based status quo, argues Rainbow Murray. By focusing on political recruitment, she explains why merit and quotas are not mutually exclusive but that in fact, quotas are essential to a meritocratic system for they open up politics to everyone.”

I hadn’t got far into this impressive piece before I realised the name Rainbow Murray rang a bell. I checked the list of Moral Maze witnesses and saw that Rainbow was to be one of them. I found her email and told Rainbow: 

“I think you can do this better than me. My plan is to lean on specific compelling examples where BBC has ignored BAME merit to illustrate the false dichotomy. I can’t see that we need to speak ahead of the show. We’re both on the same side.”

* Albury: “But the BBC know what I’m going to say…..” 

I’d started my career on top current affairs programmes, Granada’s World In Action and BBC’s 24 Hours. Later, I’d been involved in broadcasting legislation and regulation and been a founder of an ITV company, Meridian. 

I put myself in the Moral Maze producer’s shoes. It was a live programme, always risky, so I emailed some comfort with the sources for what I might say. I never imagined this would cause such intense discomfort. I said:

“I have attached a Word document which I think it might be useful to circulate to all participants when they arrive before the programme.” 

It was the list of BBC jobs Eno Alfred had gone for. I wouldn’t have time to read them out and I wanted the panel to know what they were.  

I went on:

“ I am so used to sourcing everything I say that I am sending you some key links:


The latest BBC Diversity report


http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/bame-career-progression-and-culture-report.pdf


https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/diversity-at-bbc-at-last-significant-progress-but-still-long-way-to-go


http://blackonwhitetv.blogspot.com/2018/07/the-good-bad-and-ugly-bbc-diversity.html


What I have to say about ring fenced funding and my criticism of the BBC approach (never challenged) is in my evidence to the Lords Communications Committee:


http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/communications-committee/bbc-charter-renewal-public-purposes-and-licence-fee/written/21757.html


http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/communications-committee/bbc-charter-renewal-public-purposes-and-licence-fee/written/25513.html 


https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/may/04/the-bbcs-diversity-strategy-is-not-good-enough 


I have contacted everyone I plan to mention by name.  


Strictly Confidential

……. Former DCMS broadcasting Minister Ed Vaizey has agreed to me saying something he told in in private and I am also seeking similar comfort via Matt Hancock's SPAD. 

This may seem like overkill to you but any success I have had on the issue has depended on being unchallengeable and respecting confidences.”

Later I told the BBC:

“ I want to quote Martin Luther King on conscience and say

"When it comes to BAME employment on UK programmes, the BBC has had no conscience and it has not done what is right. But politicians like Ed Vaizey and Matt Hancock have seen what was right on diversity and have acted on a moral imperative." 

I think that is combative and provocative and should lead to an engaging live debate - for which I am now very prepared.

OK?”

I was never told any of this was not OK. It seemed to be perfectly in line with how the programme described itself. I was exchanging emails with Rainbow Murray, when I got a call from the producer. When it was over, I told Rainbow:

“Your email crossed with a call from the producer who is now clearly worried about what I might say about the BBC. He wanted me to talk about other broadcasters and I had to tell him Ofcom had said the BBC was far behind Channel 4 and that this year on like for like data I expected it to be behind ITV.”

Picking up on the producer’s anxiety, I had offered to let him find someone to take my place on the show. Now I know why this offer wasn’t accepted. To its credit, the BBC had gone to some possible BAME witnesses before it came to me. It hadn’t found it easy to find someone to say “Yes”.

Naïve

I had been naive. I had never properly listened to The Moral Maze. I’d tried to listen to an edition recommended by the researcher but, in the end, I had given up bored. 

I hadn’t realised that you aren’t give seven minutes to give the evidence you had discussed with the BBC. You are given seven minutes in which a couple of the stars of the show, the panellists, use you as the subject on which to demonstrate their cleverness.

After hearing the programme, an experienced broadcaster emailed me, “I’m assuming that you’d never listened to it if you’d ever heard it before, though you would have got that they have no interest in evidence whatsoever - it’s a really dull North London dinner party.”

Nevertheless, although I didn’t get to present my evidence, I did get to say some things worth saying and I did override Buerk’s objection to quote a recent ground-breaking report, sponsored by BBC board member Tim Davie, which admitted for the first time:

“Figures in the Nations and Regions (for BAME employees) 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”.

If you’re wondering about my other points, you can find me 03.26 into the show.  

Reviews

Somewhat dazed, after my bit, I was led out of the studio to the Green Room. On my phone, two messages were waiting. The first, a word from a distinguished actor, “Bravo.” Actors know that’s what you need to hear when you step off the stage, whatever your performance. The second from a British Council bigwig, “You were brilliant. You are going to be banned by the BBC!”

The most you can hope for on such programmes is that people on the same side of the debate will be happy with what you said. Others were not impressed. One tweeted:

“Just heard you on the #moralmaze podcast. You are the most pompous, misinformed, illiberal crypto-stalinist idiot I have ever heard. You should be banned from the airwaves for ever so we don’t have to hear your tortuous dribbling crap ever again. #snowflake” 

Debating diversity on and with the BBC is truly entering a moral maze.

About the author

Simon Albury is Chair of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality and a former CEO of the Royal Television Society. In 1969 he was a member of Granada Television's World In Action Investigative Bureau.

 

 


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