Sir Lenny Henry hits out at ‘fake diversity' figures by broadcasters

He called on Ofcom to do something about the number of Bame people behind the camera.

Sir Lenny Henry has slammed “fake diversity” claims by media organisations that could give a misleading picture of off-screen work forces.

The actor, comedian and campaigner criticised a “Milli Vanilli” approach by broadcasters to address ongoing concerns about the proportion of black and minority ethnic (Bame) employees represented behind the scenes.

His comments came as he delivered a keynote speech at a meeting in Westminster’s Portcullis House on Tuesday, calling on media regulator Ofcom to do more to enforce diversity in the media industry and urging broadcasters to ring-fence funds for programming created by Bame producers.

Sir Lenny Henry visited Birmingham City University after being made chancellor last year.
Sir Lenny Henry (Joe Giddens/PA)

Sir Lenny, 58, told the audience that “diversity (in the media) is not a luxury, but utterly, absolutely and completely essential” against the backdrop of our “increasingly splintered society” fuelled by Brexit and recent terror attacks.

He said: “All broadcasters now recognise the importance of diversity and for the first time it has been enshrined in the BBC charter…there has definitely been progress and we should be proud of that, but I am sounding the alarm that this progress may all come to nothing.

“Yesterday Ofcom completed a consultation process on how the BBC’s performance should be measured…but its headline is fake diversity, “Milli Vanilli” diversity.

“It says it will set the BBC target of on-screen diversity but will not set targets for diversity behind the camera.”

Quoting a figure from the BBC earlier this year, that 14.5% of its workforce are Bame, Sir Lenny protested that the number takes into account people in roles such as finance and overseas projects, rather than people specifically involved in UK programming.

Ofcom CEO, Sharon White.
Ofcom CEO, Sharon White (Ofcom/PA)

He continued: “If the pickers and deciders remain the same then nothing changes, because only what gets measured gets done.

“The number of Bame people (behind the camera) is at crisis level and we need Ofcom to do something about it. It’s a fight over who is and who is not considered British, and whose voice does and does not matter.”

Pointing out that the watchdog sets out minimum requirements for types of programmes, such as children’s shows, that broadcasters air, he joked: “We are just asking for the same consideration as Peppa Pig.”

An Ofcom spokesperson responded: “Improving diversity in broadcasting – behind and in front of camera – is a crucial issue and a priority for Ofcom.

“We expect the BBC to increase diversity off-screen, and it has a workforce target of 15% representation of Black, Asian and ethnic minorities, across all staff, including leadership, by 2020. We are clear that we will consider further action if we don’t see early and continued progress.”

The London event was chaired by Channel 4 journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy and heard from MPs Helen Grant, David Lammy and Matthew Hancock, who backed Sir Lenny’s passionate statements.

Also at the event was Channel 4’s chief marketing officer Dan Brooke, who thanked Sir Lenny for the “kick up the arse” that his campaign had given the company, encouraging it to increase Bame employees to 18%.

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