Friday, April 02, 2010

How do Blacks, Asians & Ethnics find jobs in UK Broadcast industry

Despite a digital broadcast revolution Blacks, Asians and Ethnic minorities (BMEs) still struggle to find a job in UK broadcast journalism.

David Dunkley Gyimah reports from ITN’s hosting of the Cultural Diversity Network – designed to solve the problem.

A shorter version of this article is published at

It is the British broadcasting industry's hypertrophic scar, visible only if you truly want to see it: How Do You Solve A Problem with BMEs finding jobs?

When a phrase morphs into a three letter acronym you know it has political status, yet decades on since this "Solve A Problem" first needed attention, ten if you count the CDN's (Cultural Diversity Network) existence, Black Minority Ethnics still have reason to feel hard done by.

One by one in the basement of ITN they strafed the floor with questions to four panellists from the BBC, ITN, SKY and Channel 4. If the mark of a good journalist is to be dogged, readily posing open difficult questions, the panellists had their fill of journalists to choose from.

Each delegate could have held court for longer burnishing personal testimonies and follow-ups questions such as "Can you tell me what you do on a daily basis?” had the chair Sir Trevor McDonald not chivvied proceedings along.

The reflexive accounts from senior black and Asians in the industry: Chuck Nwosu, assistant editor, BBC News; Vivek Sharma, programmes editor, Sky News and Samira Ahmed, presenter, Channel 4 News, via a short film set the evening’s agenda.

Black and Asian figures
This was followed by ITN's managing Editor, Robin Elias providing snap shot figures of industry employment in England:

* In England the population percentage of BMEs is 12.8%

* In London this is 29%

* In London BME editorial staff accounted for 10% of the workforce

* On Screen staff made up 14%

* Off screen staff and editorial managers (decision makers) came in at 8%

Elias acknowledged there was work to be done.

In the 80s broadcasting countenanced a triple whammy, but judging from the shards of glass on the floor and editorial meetings looking less like an OBN Club, women groups have reaped a much better hard fought campaign than minorities and disability groups.

In the 90s before the era of the CDN and feeling the need to do something colleagues and I formed a collective, which with the assistance of the Freedom Forum staged events well attended by broadcasters.

We posed the same questions. Today, a new more savvy generation within the milieu of digital broadcasting wants answers.

Two hours is hardly adequate to resolve deep issues, and while “Gis-a job”, seems more than straightforward, a more inclusive transparent strategy between both groups should be under scored.

But a forum of this kind is necessary. It gives the panellist a realistic sense of the depth of feeling.

Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne and Sky’s Executive Producer Kate McAndrew intimated fresh strategies.

For delegates it puts flesh on this abstractism, "the media", and the pushy ones will no doubt have done their career prospects no harm getting in the face of the likes of Tim Singleton, head of foreign news from ITN and Craig Oliver deputy head of BBC Multimedia from the BBC - an opportunity to be cherry-picked.

This last point is a favoured long-standing modus operandi. Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy mentioned how he’d been guided by a senior exec. I have Tim Gardam then Editor of Newsnight and Janet Street Porter for kick starting my TV journalism career in 1990.

CDN Today

Today’s CDN lives in a digital space that could generate a reciprocity of creative methodologies e.g. crowd sourcing and in the bricks and mortar world accessible ideas exhaustively enacted by the indefatigable Janice Turner at BECTU’s “Move on Up” events.

Delegates are guaranteed a sortie of face-to-face contact with potential employers over the course of the day.

It’s time for bolder creative solutions said BBC journalist Barney Choudhury. And more robust research is needed because blink and you would have missed the logic of causality that evening which makes for uncomfortable telling and listening.

Broadcasting’s revolving employment door, the result of job-hopping, internal promotions and redundancies has slowed down. The debilitating economy has further damaged the hinges. Every one's staying put.

And that puts more pressure on entrants. Jim Latham, the secretary of the BJTC, the journalism accrediting body represented by broadcasters and academics gave this stat breakdown.

In 2009 with 58 accredited courses almost exclusively in universities around 3500 students were interested in journalism, 1000 of these will emerge from post grad and grad programmes of which 350 are black and Asians.

Says Jim:

“There are big problems in broadcasting which have to be dealt with by essential programmes of in-house education and training. The casual offence caused by complete ignorance of interests, beliefs, what makes ethnic communities tick isn’t god enough”.

As a senior lecturer in Journalism and council member of the BJTC I too see this at the sharp end. Couple of years ago I asked the question in a short on digital diversity at the ICA, recognising the many tiers opening up in the digital world where minorities were becoming marginalised in the main.

I have a duty of care to all students. I do also where possible try and mentor black and Asian would-be journalists, and there have been happy outcomes.

Creative Ideas

At the Southbank Centre I’m looking forward to working with artists in residents SE1 United (predominately black youngsters) alongside acclaimed British filmmaker Penny Woolcock behind Mischief Night, and recently 1 Day - an uncompromising film of the Birmingham’s Grime scene on making dv films.

My friend and fellow artist Lemn Sissay tells me when Tennessee production Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was on its way to London, they were desperate to work with black technicians – another story in itself.

But clearly in these digital revolutionary times and richer variants of journalism and storytelling, it’s disheartening not to be seeing wider more apt gains started by so many, so long ago.

The will appears to be there. Certainly, the tools exist in twitter (twitter clouds); blogs and videojournalism to further lift the campaign. And the job market will pick up again. So Just how do you solve a problem of BMEs finding jobs?


David was a former broadcast journalist who started his career in 1987 and worked for Channel 4 News, Newsnight and ABC News and is now a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster in journalism and artist in resident at the Southbank Centre. He is currently researching videojournalism and news innovation as part of a PhD and was a juror for the RTS broadcast innovation awards.