This book starts with Lenny Henry’s comments upon leaving the BAFTA TV Awards ceremony in May 2013, abruptly telling a journalist that it was, “all White on the night”. It continues with the story of the campaign to get diversity included in the BBC Charter, and then in creating the Ofcom criteria for monitoring the diversity performance of the BBC. It describes the ongoing campaign for a UK tax credit for diversity in film and TV production. It concludes with the launch in March 2020 of the Media Diversity Centre at Birmingham City University. Both authors are professors there, and LH is also the Chancellor (a position like the chair of governors).
Although the book has a “Manifesto” at the end, for me it didn’t cover some of the most interesting points in the text.
The starkest of these was the harm said to be done by ‘special’ training courses, boot camps, leadership development opportunities and such aimed at disadvantaged groups. LH describes the career harm done by such courses, looking at how trust, social capital, and a deficit model within TV companies decides who gets green lit. In short, these courses mark someone’s CV as remedial and cause later career difficulties. A case study shows the drop in salary that was found. By contrast, the best TV companies at promoting diversity were those with a very good general or universal training culture across the organisation – developing staff and not just consuming them.
A second key point was that diversity wasn’t a useful umbrella concept for action. The points about intersectionality are made but without the theory. For example, the authors say that things only start to get better when specific actions are put in place, with their example that improvements for disabled women are needed rather that assuming that an action to assist women will automatically apply also to disabled women.
The authors are more explicit with structural inequalities and with racism. Based on national statistics, they describe a TV and film industry in the UK which is controlled by a demographic found in only 3% of the population, yet still we talk about diversity and minorities whereas the disadvantaged people together are actually a substantial majority.
They state that they are giving their work within the new Media Diversity Centre five years to see if it is effective, and their plan is to use it as a base for new research rather than for campaigning or publicity. An early part of the work programme is trying to prove the wider economic benefits of a diversity tax break (ie it doesn’t just get gamed and trousered by the company owners as some Treasury officials say they suspect).
Two standouts for me:
“However, when it comes to diversity in the media industry it can feel like we have no institutional memory. I cannot remember a time in my forty-plus-year career when women, Black, Asian and disabled people have not been actively fighting for a bigger place at the media table to tell their stories and have their voices heard.
Yet, when I talk to senior industry figures in their fifties, sixties and even seventies, who have been at the front line trying to increase diversity in television, I am amazed how consistently they feel that the present policies rolled out by broadcasters are either repeating the same mistakes or failing to capitalise on what has happened before.” (Henry and Ryder, 2021, p147)
“… it is a very personal confession, but a confession that I know a lot of people from ‘diverse’ backgrounds working in television can relate to.
A lot of the time, at work, I am lonely. Very lonely.”
(emphasis in original) (Henry and Ryder, 2021, p118)
Access All Areas: The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond
Lenny Henry & Marcus Ryder
Faber & Faber, 2021, 181pp, £7.99
ISBN 978 057 136 5128