by Dayo Laniyan
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has said that the lack of black and ethnic minority faces on UK television is “frankly weird”, and called for immediate action, complaining that broadcasters were “cutting themselves off from a huge range of talent.”
His warning came on the heels of television executives- including the BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore- meeting yesterday in Edinburgh to discuss whether racism exists in television.
Idris Elba and Lenny Henry were among the stars who wrote in an open letter telling TV bosses that they were “dismayed” at the low number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds working in the industry. They called for “a ring-fenced pot of money” for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) programmes.
Other stars have lamented the lack of an ethnic minority presence in the TV industry. Sophie Okenedo, BAFTA nominated for her role in the show Criminal Justice compared the situation in the UK to that in the US, “I do notice that- over the last year- I’ve had maybe two scripts from Britain and tens and tens from America. The balance is ridiculous. I’m still struggling (in the UK) in a way that my white counterparts at the same level wouldn’t have.”
From early next year British broadcasters are to be made subject to a newly implemented system of league tables on their employment of ethnic groups, with the data being readily made public. Patricia Hodgson, chairwoman of the media watchdog Ofcom, disclosed plans for the cross-industry monitoring plan, called “Project Silvermouse”, in a letter to union leaders.
The plans will involve most of Britain’s leading broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, C4 and Sky. Hodgson herself said, “This is an important step, as this is the first time the broadcasters will be able to provide data on on-screen and off-screen representation which is standardised, comparable and made publicly available on a broadcaster-by-broadcaster basis.”
Earlier this week, Sky have announced that by the end of next year 20% of the actors and writers of its UK-originated shows would come from minority ethnic backgrounds.