Paul Deal, Manager, BBC Journalism Recruitment Project

16 March 2009

Explain why diversity matters to the BBC?

The BBC takes a licence fee from everyone who has a television. We have a duty to deliver good value and to connect with all the audiences that we serve. The UK is a multi-ethnic country, especially in the cities. If we don't reflect that, then we will be just talking to a section of the audience and not to all the audience. We can connect better with the minority ethnic communities if we have a workforce that is representative of those communities.

In pursuing greater diversity, is there a danger of 'tokenism?'

I don’t think so. Tokenism wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interests. We are looking to bring about a workforce that reflects the communities it serves.

The BBC has a recent record of bringing in and bringing on ethnic minority talent but that talent doesn't stay within the organisation. What does that tell you about the BBC's professional culture and its working environment?

The BBC is keen to develop the talent and the career paths of minority ethnic journalists. We have got some good black and Asian journalists at junior levels but critics say it is hard to find black and Asian journalists at senior levels where they are influencing running orders and shaping news-gathering priorities.

How do you measure results of the BBC diversity programme?

You measure it by how many people stay in the organisation and prosper. We can track people now and their progress. The BBC diversity centre measures these schemes. The BBC sets diversity targets for all the different divisions. The target for the journalism division is 12.5% ethnic minority.

Our measurements include the percentage of staff from a minority ethnic background and the percentage who are disabled. We also measure the portrayal of diverse staff on screen and of interviewees, And we keep track of the number of ethnic minority journalists in high profile positions.

The directors of the BBC had to forgo bonuses in 2007 because they didn’t hit their diversity targets. Mark Thompson, the Director General, has made it a clear priority that we are going to get a grip on this.

In terms of representation, the BBC is getting better at reflecting the different groups in society. We are getting very good now about thinking who our public is. When news crews are out doing vox pops they might choose to interview a woman wearing a veil, a black guy, someone who looks Jewish or someone in a wheelchair. We don’t just interview a traditional white family. In terms of portrayal and representation on the screen, I think we are doing better. In terms of voices, there's more diversity.

Is there a danger of a white backlash?

In terms of representation on the screen, I am sure that any reasonable person who lives in London or some of Britain’s other major cities will recognise that people there come from many backgrounds. So we are holding up a mirror to those communities and, by sometimes choosing to interview minority ethnic people and by improving the proportion of staff from an ethnic minority background, we are reflecting life in those cities.

How have diversity schemes improved the BBC?

We’re doing pretty well on ethnic diversity. Half of the people that we've just taken on in the Journalism Trainee Scheme are from an ethnic minority background. That's great. I think social diversity is arguably now a harder nut to crack.

Some people worry that we need to do more to connect with working class communities and it would be good to find talented people from such backgrounds who could become BBC journalists.

We have to be very driven by delivering to audiences. In return for a licence fee we have to produce a wide range of services for a wide range of people. We are also getting better at understanding the responsibility we have as journalists. The 7/7 London transport bombings demonstrated the delicate and difficult nature of the balance required. We must tell the story as it is, about fundamentalists and the attacks and the suffering that is caused. But we also need to work hard not to stigmatise a whole community. Finding the right language is crucial - we need to contextualise and to find the right words, descriptions and ‘labels’.


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