TV broadcasters ‘failing to represent society’ says Ofcom report

Sharon WhiteImage copyright

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Sharon White said the results would concern the whole industry

Broadcasters are failing to represent society with a lack of diversity among staff, Ofcom has warned.

The broadcasting watchdog says women, ethnic minority groups and disabled people are all under-represented.

Its chief executive Sharon White said “many of the results will concern the whole industry”.

Ofcom’s report looked at how the TV industry – focusing on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Channel 5 owners Viacom – can improve.

White said the report “paints a worrying picture, with many broadcasters failing properly to monitor the make-up of their employees”.

She added that “too many people from minority groups struggle to get into television”, which “creates a cultural disconnection between the people who make programmes, and the many millions who watch them”.

‘Step-change needed’

The report found that across the five main broadcasters, women accounted for 48% of the total workforce – compared with 51% across the general population – and held 39% of senior roles.

Ofcom also said those from a black, African or ethnic minority background made up 12% of workers, and disabled people just 3%, despite accounting for 14% and 18% of the general population respectively.

And their research found that lots of people felt there are not enough programmes on TV that “authentically portray their lives and communities”.

Ofcom said a “step-change across industry” is needed and that broadcasters need to regularly measure and monitor the make-up of their workforce, set clear diversity targets and that “diversity transformation should be led from the top”.

It said the BBC should be “leading the way”, but that the report “shows its performance on most characteristics is behind that of Channel 4”, which had the most diverse workforce across most characteristics.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “Ofcom’s report uses old figures which don’t show the recent progress we have made. Figures we’ve already published in 2017 show we have increased our representation across the board including in our female, LGBT, BAME and disability workforce.

“We’ve been clear about our commitment to leading the way on diversity and set the most stretching targets for 2020, because no one should be complacent about the challenge facing the whole industry.”

By 2020, the BBC wants its employees to comprise 50% women, 8% disabled people, 8% lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people and 15% people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.

The report focuses on television, with a separate study on radio to come – although the BBC data does include radio as it provided it to Ofcom in a combined form.

  • The report comes as chairman of the BBC Sir David Clementi said, in a speech at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge, that the corporation was one of the most diverse workforces in the UK, and that the 2020 targets are among the most ambitious in the industry.
  • In his speech, he also said politicians needed to do more to defend journalists who were subject to abuse “almost on a daily basis”, noting that such abuse was becoming “increasingly explicit and aggressive” – especially against female journalists. He added that “much of it occurs online” and that social media companies need to do more.

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