Marcus Ryder calls for reframing diversity at broadcasting union national conference

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Marcus Ryder MBE, from the Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, today challenged the UK media industry to foster true diversity and has backed broadcasting union Bectu’s campaign to establish an independent racism reporting body for the broadcasting industry.

Mr Ryder delivered the opening address on day two of the Prospect (Bectu’s parent union) national conference, which runs Sunday 12 June – Tuesday 14 June 2022 in Bournemouth.

Mr Ryder called diversity and better representation in the media industry one of the most important issues facing Britain today.

Reframing diversity

In the UK film and TV industry, women make up only 13.6% of working film directors, while non-white people make up 14% of England and Wales but just 2.2% of TV directors. 14% of people in employment aged 16-64 consider themselves disabled according to the Creative Skillset employment census, yet just 0.3% of the total film workforce are disabled.

Referencing his recent book Access All Areas, co-authored with Sir Lenny Henry, Mr Ryder argued for a reframing of how the broadcasting industry thinks about diversity, commenting:

“Too often when we think about diversity, we invariably think about minority, marginalised, disadvantaged groups.

“If you combine the percentage of the population who are women and then combine that with the percentage of the population which is disabled, then add that with the percentage of the population which are people of colour, then add the percentage of the population that says they are LGBTQ+, you get the grand number of 70.5% per cent.

“The people so many of us generally think of as the majority and never use the word “minority” to describe – white, heterosexual, non-disabled men – make up less than a third of the UK population. The rest of us – the vast majority of us – come under the umbrella term of ‘diversity’. Yet, we are too often dismissed as a minority, in need of special treatment.

“If we had a level playing field, then, for every white, non-disabled heterosexual man you see on TV, in Parliament or in any position of power, we would see a woman or Black person or Asian person or disabled person or gay person. Not just once, but more than twice.” 

Regional representation matters

He also discussed the importance of regional diversity in achieving diversity and the over-representation of London and the South-East of England in broadcasting.

“Calculating the percentage of the population that are not white, not heterosexual, not non-disabled, not men, and not from the South-East of England – because these are the people who are seriously under-represented in far too many walks of life – the number is 96.9% per cent.

“That means the people we invariably think of as the majority make up only 3.1% percent of the population. Three vs. ninety-seven is the reality of Britain today.”

“For every three White, non-disabled, heterosexual men with a London accent you see on TV, or in a company board meeting, or sitting as a judge, you should see 97 people with a Birmingham accent or a woman or gay person or Asian person or disabled person, or a lesbian, or some combination of these characteristics.”

Mr Ryder revealed that there is not a single major television news bulletin – from the BBC’s Breakfast News, One O’clock, Six O’clock or Ten O’clock to Channel 4’s Seven O’Clock news, to any of ITV’s major bulletins or Channel 5’s, which is headed by a person of colour or a visibly disabled person behind the camera with ultimate editorial control.

Neither is there a major television political current affairs programme, including PanoramaNewsnight or Dispatches which is headed by a person of colour or a visibly disabled person.

He summarised: “When we listen to the news or watch television dramas whose perspective do they reflect? Whose interests do they serve? The 3% or the 97%?

“Right now the industry I love and I suspect many of you love as well is failing us.” 

Racism reporting body for the broadcasting industry

Mr Ryder has joined with Bectu, the largest trade union representing workers in the British broadcasting industry, to call for the establishment of an independent racism reporting body for the industry. He told conference delegates:

“The need to address racism in the media industry is pressing and urgent.

“For many, the formal processes of trying to address racism in the industry are also often viewed as too difficult and costly – both financially and psychologically – so many victims of racism simply do not raise a complaint.

“On top of that, much of the industry defines racism as simple one on one interactions and effectively frames it as a subset of their bullying HR procedure. This fails to capture the complexity of racism beyond obvious name calling or direct interpersonal interactions, and fails to capture systemic racist practices.

“Even when individuals do complain, complaints are often not systematically collected by the organisations involved, anonymous complaints are often not recorded at all, and there is no industry-wide mechanism or process to collect reports of racism to obtain an understanding of the problem let alone come up with industry-wide policies and suggestions of how to address the issue of racism.

“This is a failure on an industrial scale and we wonder why representation is so bad.”

Bectu will shortly be re-launching its Race to Be Heard campaign to renew pressure on industry stakeholders and broadcasters to establish an independent racism reporting body in the broadcasting industry.

Bectu believes that the formation of such a body will help support and sustain diversity within the broadcasting industry, and lead to a healthier and more productive environment.

Bectu is the largest trade union representing workers in the British media and broadcasting sector. Its members include staff from across the television, film, theatre and live events industries.

Its parent union, Prospect union, holds a national conference every two years, attended by representatives, to make sure we are constantly checking in with our members on what is important to them. Conference decides on the priorities of the union by garnering the views of branches.