“Will diversity in creative industries be Ed Vaizey’s enduring legacy?”

| January 16, 2014

Community news. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has made it clear he wants to increase Black, Asian and minority ethnic employment in broadcast, film and the performing arts.  Next week he is holding a ministerial round table with industry leaders to see what needs to be done.

Vaizey has been shocked into action by the data in the latest Creative Skillset Census. It shows BAME representation in the Creative Industries in 2012 was at its lowest point since the Creative Skillset Census began – just 5.4%.

London is the least representative region with 28.8% people in the general workforce, but only 8.9% in the Creative Industries when 40% of the London population is BAME. He would be even more shocked if he had felt the anger at November’s Broadcast Diversify conference and heard comments at the CaribDirect Invisibility Seminar in December where audience members threatened to stop paying the BBC licence fee.


Ed Vaizey. Photo courtesy The TV Collective

Ed Vaizey. Photo courtesy The TV Collective

Vaizey’s initiative is not new. Fourteen years ago, Labour Culture Secretary Chris Smith tried to do the same thing with broadcasting and film. Smith’s initiatives failed. I was involved in both of them.  If Vaizey learns the lessons of the past and takes departmental responsibility, this time he might succeed.

For broadcasting, Smith backed the Cultural Diversity Network (CDN) led by Carlton CEO Clive Jones with Parminder Vir. At its launch in October 2000 the BBC, ITV, Carlton Television, Granada Media, GMTV, ITN, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB each produced an action plan, with employment targets and commitments to increase the number of black and Asian screen actors and broadcasters.

Everyone had hope. Sir Herman Ouseley, then Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said he detected a change in mood. “I’m hopeful that today is a watershed because the high-level executives have come here and pledged themselves to commitments, along with the Secretary of State.”

At the start CDN created real momentum. Skillset data shows that in the years 2004 to 2006 the reported number of BAME individuals in the UK television industry rose by 80.6%. Jones had made diversity a top priority for broadcasting CEOs and his CDN committee was packed with people who were passionate about diversity. I was proud to be one of them.

The Jones effect was short lived. After two years, Mark Thompson then Channel 4 CEO took over from Jones. Thompson ditched all the people passionate about diversity and largely relied on personnel officers. The momentum was lost, never to be regained.

CDN turned into a broadcasters’ game of pass the parcel led by people for whom diversity was seldom a high priority and who changed every two years. CDN was responsible for a range of excellent, small and individually worthwhile initiatives but these served to distract from the painful truth that the broadcasters were prepared to do anything to support BAME employment except change.  After two years of spectacular increase, the next six years between 2006 and 2012 saw the reported BAME numbers working in the UK television industry decline by 30.9%.

For film, Chris Smith asked the British Screen Advisory Council to produce a plan to increase BAME employment. I chaired the BSAC committee which delivered a report “Achieving Diversity in Film” in January 2001. It diagnosed the problems and recommended a detailed five year programme designed to achieve a target of employment of ethnic minorities in the film industry, in line with the published figures for the ethnic minority population within the area where production and business units are based. “The goal is that diversity of employment in film should represent the diversity in the population as a whole.”

The Action Points for the first year mirrored much of what CDN was also proposing:

  • sensitise the industry
  • implement monitoring systems
  • develop training programmes
  • create an online employment database
  • develop a voluntary code
  • set targets

Our most crucial finding was that monitoring of the five year programme was vital to ensure that real change took place. We said that an Ethnic Minority Employment Action Group should report annually to the Secretary of State. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport should take the lead in monitoring the progress towards achieving the targets and actions proposed in our report so that racial diversity, on and behind the screen, reflects today’s multicultural Britain.

Simon Albury offering to facilitate change at the CaribDirect Invisibility Seminar.

Simon Albury offering to facilitate change at the CaribDirect Invisibility Seminar.

The BSAC report was passed to the UK Film Council which ignored it and failed to deliver any improvement in BAME employment.

We have now seen fourteen wasted years. It was a reasonable time over which reasonable progress should have been expected. The Creative Industries are moving backwards not forwards on BAME employment. We now need to see radical progress and radical change.

The focus has been on the means not on the ends. More of the same will not work. Experience in broadcasting and film shows that these industries cannot be left alone to deliver. External independent regulation is essential and there must be costs of failure. Commercial companies should be encouraged; publicly funded bodies must be required.

If you wish to achieve increased levels of minority ethnic employment in creative industries you must set targets and tie the provision of public funds and the licence fee to these being achieved.  We have reached a point where government must say: “It doesn’t get the money if it hasn’t got the mix.”

In 1980, a Conservative Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw was responsible for the most radical intervention in broadcasting, the creation of Channel 4, of which he was immensely proud. It is a legacy for which he is still remembered. Next week Ed Vaizey has an opportunity to create his own enduring legacy by taking the necessary steps to ensure fair BAME representation and employment in the creative industries.

Simon Albury is a former Chief Executive of the Royal Television Society and was Chair of the British Screen Advisory Council for Ethnic Minority Employment in Film.

Article written by Simon Albury for The TV Collective

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