Monday, October 01, 2007

Black Image on TV - Channel 4 celebrations

Geoff Small - a respected TV producer/director invited me as an added panelist to an event he's hosting for Channel 4, which celebrates 25 years on British TV.

Good cast of speakers mentioned here.

I can't make it for reasons, but here's what I suspect will emerge and what I would have wanted to contribute.

There's no doubting the contribution black people have made to Channel 4 and British TV as a whole.

Panelist and Big Brother winner Derek Laud joins a long list of talent, whilst Channel 4's own Dr Robert Beckford's blend of the visual academic thesis on a current affairs bed have become appointment viewing.

But despite coming a long way in representation on screen and off, there is still work to be done - something the Cultural Diversity Network, supported by the industry would acknowledge, and the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson mentions from time to time.

There has been some sterling work:
  • Move on Up driven by BECTU's indefatigable Janice Turner

  • Aspire - a collective of concerned journalists out to promote more inclusivity

  • Mark Boothe's B3 Media, which hosts a number of digital events.

  • Black Britain's range of networks

  • and many many more agents.

    However the CDN having staged a fair few events appears somewhat bereft of the big ideas to seismically move on the agenda.

    The last event I attended at the BAFTA yielded an interesting debate, but how did they follow up?

    Style and Substance

    This could be a presentational issue for there are many many actors within this area and It would be churlish of anyone including me to suggest I'm privy to all internal and external workings.

    However there have been successes. Something to build upon.

    BBC 3's Three Non- Blondes, Some excellent music docs on BBC1, and Channel 4's Dr Beckford and its brilliant late night interactive drama Dubplate.

    In the mid 90s there was the BBC's Black Britain which either launched or provided oxygen for many of the careers of today's well known TV figures and executives.

    But as the industry with its pending sqeeze on jobs at the BBC and ITV and a dearth of risk-taking ideas looks to the future, what hope for black images on TV?

    Programme maker and academic David Dunkley Gyimah hosts B3 Media's "Breaking, Entering and Staying in the Game" at the
    ICA Cinema
    with Nelson George (US' Filmmaker, writer), Catherine Johnson (Screenwriter, Bullet Boy, and author), Ray Paul (Executive Producer 1 Xtra, Specialist & Live Music programming 1Xtra), and Maxine Watson (BBC commissioning executive)

    What hope for TV?

    For the industry as a whole the outlook may not be as bright as the Culture Secretary James Purnell so bouyantly suggests.

    That's inspite of the recent shenanigans.

    Greater innovation within broadband and cable e.g. streaming HD without compression will continue to put pressure on the TV Industry. The triple play scenario, greater broadband speeds and if BT can pull its finger out optical cabling will push broadband as a viable transmission network.

    Note this number 10mbits at MPG2 coding.

    Bleak is the Future?

    However for people of colour, bleak could be an early assessment.

    In times of crisis, those policies and pledges not occupying centre table at exec meetings see the waste paper basket first.

    Now even docmentary programming is feeling bruised and embattled. Who would have thought?

    But unlike a decade ago, today the landscape offers a burgeoning solution in broadband and IPTV and other potential online broadcasters, such as the newspaper industry.

    Today it really is a global market, with new players looking for talent.

    That shouldn't make broadcast managers complacent, but provide a window for all potential broadcasters and ethnic minorities.

    Future TV strategy

    Part of any strategy hereon must involve a multiple track approach both in self suficiency and preparing the next generation for the new market place which desperately requires cross over convergence skills.

    I made a passing point recently in this postingUniversities of the 21st Century

    Last week Guy Ker of ITN was unequivocal: "We need videojournalists!" But they're rare on the ground.

    Also, there must be a concerted approach to remove the stigma that broadcasters are giving people of colour a leg up when recruiting ethnic staff.

    Similarly, the industry and broadcasters still need to work on their presentation to explain their position to non ethnic parties alarmed at what is perceive as discrimanatory employment.

    The operative word here is "perceived".

    Ethnicity and the media is an emotive topic.

    I also believe the industry should not shy away from telling truths about future prospects.

    At Move On Up's first event industry event some years back, I bumped into a very senior BBC producers whom I'd worked with some ten years ago.

    "David we simply don't have the sort of turn over that enables us to go on such recruitment drives", he said to me shaking his head.

    As a member of BECTU and Director-member of the UK Broadcasting Journlism Training Council (BJTC) whose job entails assessing the strength of UK-university media institutions, there has to be more work with broadcasters and places of learning to provide the necessary skills to all, including ethnic people.

    Too often in my capacity as a lecturer and public speaker, I have come across students of all hues, particularly ethnic, whose understanding of the industry is skewed.

    Three former very talented black students, one of whom (Dionne Clarke) blagged her way onto the red carpet premiere of Dream Girls and Sin City, and produced wonderful interviews, are still without work.

    Yes, a life lecturing is required. It's a tough industry for everyone and you've got to be driven and know what you are getting yourself into.

    Margaret Hodge, (MP) Minister for Culture, was not in the wrong once on Channel 4 News when she remarked to a recent graduate, a black woman, it would be a struggle finding work because of the nature of the industry.

    Where Next?

    So what's likely to be the outcome of the event?

  • Rigourous debate and hopefully a genuine reflection and zeal to understand the issues, more so in these dynamically changing times.

  • A chance to speak to the TV execs in a language they understand.

  • A further opportunity to talk up that its about talent and diversity of talent

  • This latter point is something Simon Prosser from Macmillan Publishers, behind Zadie Smith et al makes in an interview - part of which I have clipped in my report Is Television Killing the Arts?

    There are 6 million people in London, 2 million of those are from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, who we should have the opportunity to hear something about, he suggests.

    All Change

    Will there be fundamental change?

    Geoff and I have been around long enough to know that answer, but what Geoff has is a platform to shine a big light on a topic that often lies under a bushel.

    It's a chance to find new patrons, supporters and like minded souls interested in the contribution black people have made, can make, and should make in the years ahead.

    Programmes like BBC 3's The Trouble with Black Men, even if it was a polemic, should be more responsible in their quest to entertain as well as inform on such controversial subjects.

    In remaking our own programme here, The Trouble with the Trouble with Black Men, what emerged was the need for the broadcaster to provide a forum to discuss the issues. Crimewatch cum reconstruction without the desk exchange.

    One thing though is certain when we look past ethnicity and the colour divide it's about TV making, good TV making - and the industry has shown that it recognises that, with reference to Geoff, David Upshall, Paul Blake et al.

    It just that it, well, needs more commitment.


    Anonymous said...

    Hi David I did attend this event on the Saturday at Bafta. I was meant to attend the gala event the previous night which launched the event which was well attended.

    I was partly responsible to some of the young people attending the event on the Saturday.

    I caught up with a few acquaintances and got talking to Paul Blake and had several interesting discussions which I will definitely follow up on.

    I will pass on the link to your blog to Cinnamon Films the company who organised this event.

    The B3 media you attended I missed but I did make the earlier screening of "Smart Black People" b
    y Nelson George as part of the Black Creativity event.

    Somethings don't change quickly enough read Guardian article here

    I do remember Channel 4 in the 80's and 90's with programmes like "No Problem", "Desmonds", "Bandung files" and an entertainment show with Smiley Culture, etc.

    It's ironic this week that a BBC boss has resigned over trailer that misrepresented the Queen has having a tantrum see article, but a BBC commissioner thought that this documentary was not worth turning down click here .

    Anonymous said...

    Bleak is the future

    I was sent an e-mail by a friend about the BBC

    A few BBC related articles, I wonder how much things have changed since your tenure there?
    click here

    ligali article

    Moira Stewart leaves the BBC
    more here

    An interesting audio file from colourful set up by ex BBC journalist Henry Bonsu, it may easier to download and playback on your pod it's two hours in length.
    play here

    Thank goodness for the most democratic forum of choice and expression the internet.

    It may have its minuses but you can't be sacked for having an opinion and have a forum to share ideas and exchanges differing points of view.