By Guest Author, Henry Kincaid
Back in April, the BBC unveiled its ‘Diversity and Inclusion Strategy’, an initiative designed to represent “everyone” and “all the cultures and diverse voices that make the UK what it is.” , according to Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC. The policy came after the BBC was criticised for not doing enough to tackle the issue of diversity within the company; David Lammy, former Labour culture minister, castigated the corporation just a few days before the Strategy was announced; Mr Lammy is quoted as saying;
“I am growing tired of strategies, of new approaches, of action plans, of initiatives and press releases.
The net result of all of these strategies and initiatives is sadly very little. Despite the good intentions, rhetoric has not been matched by real progress.”
The new strategy, designed to take action between 2016 and 2020, says it will create ‘a workforce at least as diverse, if not more so, than any other in the industry’; it will achieve this by setting targets such as making sure 50% of all leading roles will go to women, and 8% will go members of the ‘LGBTQ community’, etc. Alongside goals regarding the genetic makeup and sexual orientation of the company’s on-air portrayals, the BBC also intends to use the same practice when hiring behind the scenes; according to the document released by the BBC back in April, the company will set “workforce targets” to ensure the company’s “employees and leadership teams reflect and represent the modern UK”; this will include targets such as; “Women 50%; Ethnic minorities 15%; Disability 8% and for the first time LGBT 8%.”. The BBC also intends to set up ‘unconscious bias’ training for all interviewers and managers; training such as this is designed to make sure that any, assumed, biases regarding sex, race or religion that the person in question may have, are completely removed to make the person as objective as possible.
The policies do not stop at hiring for in-front-of, and behind of, camera work, the BBC also intends to set undisclosed targets for their apprentice programmes; these targets will presumably be very similar to those mentioned earlier, targets that we assume to be representative of the UK, however; this does not appear to actually be the case. The most recent data anyone has access to regarding the subject of UK demographics can be found in the Office for National Statistics’ Household Survey and the 2011 census; to start, the BBC has set a target of 15% ethnic minorities to “represent the modern UK”, but according to the 2011 census, ethnic minorities only make up less than 13% of the population. In the case of LGBT, the BBC has set a target of 8%, however; the survey would suggest only around 1.7% of the population considers themselves to fall into this group. Unlike with the previous two examples, Disability is actually under-represented by the BBC’s targets; the company has set a target of 15%, however; data suggests that around 18% of the population in England and Wales is disabled and yet these numbers do not include those living in Scotland, and therefore the number is likely to be greater than 18%.
With statistics such as these, it is unclear why the BBC has set targets that are as unrelated to the actual figures as they are, especially when the subject matter refers to the systematic discrimination of people’s race, gender, and sexuality by a partly state-run, publicly funded organisation. To clarify what exactly the BBC intended to achieve through this policy, as well as why they felt it necessary to create a strategy that openly discriminates against arbitrary physical characteristics, I contacted the BBC; this was their response:
“We are tasked by our new Royal Charter to ensure that our output reflects the diverse communities of the whole of the UK, accurately and authentically – with specific emphasis on reflecting under-represented communities, cultures and languages, and all socio-economic backgrounds.
As the Director General Tony Hall has explained:
“The BBC has a breadth and scale that is unique in the UK’s media, and that means what we do has real impact. So I want us to make sure we are leading by example, working with and learning from others in the industry, and using our influence to bring about real change.”
Some people have questioned why some of our diversity targets are higher than the national average. With regard to our BAME target of 15%, this is higher than the 12.9% national average because the BBC has major hubs in large metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham and Glasgow, for example. It also reflects the estimated population of the UK by 2020.
On our target for LGBT it’s worth noting that not everyone discloses their sexuality. There will always be debate on numbers, but at the end of the day, the BBC’s new Charter requires that we reflect the nation we serve. We agree with that and make no apology for setting demanding targets – just like many other organisations – to ensure that we make progress.”
Doublethink was a term coined by the famous British author, George Orwell, in his 1949 novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’; the term refers to the act of holding two, mutually contradictory, beliefs while considering them both to be true in their own right, even when actively comparing them against one another. The BBC has demonstrated the practical application of this phrase by giving us a real-world example of this philosophy being put into use; in one sentence, the corporation claims to be held to a statute that forces them to represent the whole of the UK’s diverse population as “accurately and authentically” as possible, while also stating three paragraphs below why they have done the opposite; to purposefully over-represent certain groups as a nod to larger metropolitan areas such as London and Birmingham, two cities that have populations unrepresentative of the rest of the UK. The BBC has therefore demonstrated its ability to claim their discriminatory practices are required by law, while also professing that these practices are not actually following the guidelines of the law, therefore breaking said law. Regardless of this, the BBC still maintained the legitimacy of this prejudiced strategy and so I contacted them to explain the hypocrisy within their e-mail, and to ask for a secondary, follow-up, response: nearly two months later, they replied with this:
“People have expressed a variety of views, including claims that the BBC is actively discriminating against employees on the basis of their race, sexual orientation or gender, that job applications should be judged on merit alone, disagreement over our diversity targets, and that we are breaking the law.
Please be assured that the BBC is an equal opportunity employer; we have a duty under the Charter to promote equality of opportunity in employment and we’re committed to providing a work environment that is free from unlawful discrimination, and this includes positive discrimination. For the avoidance of doubt, the BBC does not have a policy and does not practice positive discrimination for any group. We always hire on merit.
In addition, some people believe we should report different figures, but the BBC is reporting progress against its longer term strategic aims for 2020.”
This message was from Tunde Ogungbesan, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the BBC, and is perhaps the most contradictory statement of all; up until right at the end of the monologue, one would assume that the BBC had dropped their ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ policy and all the necessary and discriminatory procedures they would have had to have implemented as part of the plan, however; the sentence at the end appears to contradict this. The statement regarding “people believe we should report different figures”, appears to be in response to comments about the choice of targets for each group referenced in the BBC strategy, however; the next part of his sentence appears to make little to no sense; what does “but the BBC is reporting progress against its longer term strategic aims for 2020”, mean? I don’t know and it doesn’t appear to really be a response to anything, but what it does do is bring up the subject of current BBC ‘strategic aims’ for the year, 2020; aims such as the ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ strategy, which was scheduled to operate between 2016 and 2020. I bring this up as the strategy, regardless of whether or not Mr Ogungbeshen wants to admit it exists, because the strategy is still being implemented; the policy can still be found on their website and has already been influencing the jobs application process. If you don’t like links to the Daily Mail, here is a screenshot taken from a website called Creative Access; this registered charity focuses on finding paid internships for those from an ethnic minority background. This group does not create the internships themselves but is legally allowed to discriminate in favour of their target audience (due to their charity status) on behalf of the company which is advertising on their site; all internships hosted on this site are only available through this company itself and one is asked not to contact the advertisers directly when attempting to apply to on of these positions. The following image was taken directly from their site and was for a series of internships at the BBC:
The existence of this image suggests that the BBC had actively posted this advertisement to a site known for their discriminatory practices, and since these internships were from May, they fall after the public announcement of their ‘Diversity and Inclusion Strategy’. A month after these advertisements were discovered, another case emerged in which a job hunter had supposedly been discriminated against when he had applied for a job as a junior scriptwriter on the popular BBC show, Holby City. The man apparently received a generic email saying his application would not be considered, as it was only open to candidates from “ethnic minority backgrounds”; this was all later verified to have actually occurred after a number of applicants also reported the same thing had happened to them, and after the BBC had commented that they had taken this move to deal with the “under-representation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in script editing roles”. The story was originally released by The Sun newspaper but they (The Sun) eventually went on to delete the article, however; the post was thankfully archived and can be viewed here.The BBC responded to the Sun article by posting this on their public Twitter:
As one can see, the BBC has openly performed discriminatory practices, legal or not, and openly admit this as part of their ‘Diversity and Inclusion Strategy’, however; the response from Mr Ogungbesan suggests that the BBC is no longer willing to admit these practices take place, or that their strategy requires the enforced discrimination of people based on their race, gender, or sexuality. While I hope the BBC goes on to clarify their position in the future, if any eventual evidence arises that suggests these practices are still being implemented, it will confirm that the BBC has now begun to complete their ‘Diversity and Inclusion Strategy’s more unpleasant aspects covertly, unwilling to admit that the company deals in the process of “positive discrimination” in public. Just remember, no matter how much concrete evidence appears to the contrary, or how many times the BBC has previously given contradictory statements, the BBC “always hires on merit”, and never discriminates in favour of certain groups because “it is the right thing to do”. Mr Ogungbesan promises. Even if the Director-General thinks otherwise; to finish the article for me, here is a statement from the man himself, Mr Tony Hall:
“Diversity really matters – both for me and for the BBC. As an organisation, we represent everyone – all the cultures and diverse voices that make the UK what it is. Our business is storytelling and we must make sure we tell stories that people all across the country will recognise, will understand and will relate to. At its very core, our purpose is to represent everyone. But, beyond this, I believe that the chances provided to people shouldn’t be linked to skin colour or disability, just as they shouldn’t be linked to where they grew up or went to school. And that is why the BBC, as a truly creative organisation, must embrace as many voices and views as possible, as well as giving opportunities to people from all backgrounds. We have made some excellent progress to date on diversity and social mobility – and we should celebrate that. These areas have been a priority to me since I returned to the BBC as Director-General. But we can – and must – do more. By the time we have delivered this strategy we want to be able to say that we have built an understanding of diversity in everything we do. We are setting ourselves on- and off-air targets that are as broad and challenging as any in the UK media industry. Put simply, with the range and breadth of programming we make, you will be able to see and hear diverse voices in everything we do. And I’m convinced that this is what we, the BBC, must aspire to. We have a breadth and scale that is unique in the UK’s media and this means that what we do has real impact. So I want us to make sure we are leading by example, working with and learning from others in the industry, and using our influence to bring about real change. I am determined to build on the momentum we already have, to be as ambitious as we can be, and to further our resolve to ensure that the BBC truly includes everyone.”
-Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC.