BBC Diversity Fund update slammed as ‘smoke and mirrors’

The BBC’s long-awaited update on the progress of a fund set up in 2020 to improve various content from the public broadcaster was met with skepticism from some UK industry leaders, who dubbed it “smoke and mirrors”.

The BBC’s Creative Diversity Commitment – made in the wake of the renewed Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020 – pledged £100m ($124m) over three years (from April 2021 to March 2024) to their existing contract budgets for diverse and inclusive content encompassing racial representation and social mobility and disability. That breaks down into around £33million a year. (The BBC’s total spending on television was £1.4 billion in 2020/2021.)

The fund will apply to a range of genres and will require the company to create content with at least two of the following three priorities: rich storytelling and on-screen presentation; diverse production teams and talent; and diversely managed production companies. (As of April 2021, all new work at the BBC must also include at least 20% of off-screen talent from underrepresented groups.)

The BBC announced on Thursday that after the initiative’s first year it has invested £44million in support of a total of 67 TV shows across genres to increase diversity and inclusion both on- and off-air. The company is now on track to invest the full £112m by 2023/24, of which £100m will go to TV and £12m to radio.

In the fund’s first year, programs were produced by 48 different independent production companies, with 73% of these companies having different leadership. The BBC says 10% has never been commissioned by the broadcaster before 2022. In addition, £4million has been invested in support of 90 different radio commissions.

Programs commissioned under the initiative include BBC Three’s Tonight With Target, drama Then Barbara Met Alan, Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star, documentary This Girl’s Changed ‘, ‘Young, Welsh and… , Bossin’ It’ and ‘Krept and Konan: We Are England’. Other programs highlighted include live coverage of Woman’s Super League, BBC Children’s Magic Hands – Black History Songs and Snaps – Listen, Dad, BBC Scotland’s The Bhangra Boss – The Story of DJ Vips, BBC Arts film Salt and the comedy Dreaming While Black.

diversity understands that the BBC will not release a full list of all programs commissioned under the fund, as independent production companies have had to submit personal details and proprietary characteristics of individuals to qualify for the investment, which is not legally shared. (The programs mentioned were only recorded after the producers gave the BBC their permission.)

The BBC said its three main criteria (two of which were required to receive a commission) were discussed at the time the program was commissioned and then measured on transmission. This means that shows counted in the initiative’s first year could be commissioned prior to April 2021 but were retrospectively included in the initiative.

Some UK industry leaders say the BBC’s methods and criteria for the fund are insufficient to accurately assess true progress for various productions.

Simon Albury, chairman of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality, has dubbed the fund “smoke and mirrors” because it does not provide a basis against which to measure spending on the criteria of different productions. In fact, sources point out that the initiative is the first time a number has been applied to spending across BBC productions.

Albury wrote in a July 2020 OpenDemocracy post that the “pick-and-mix” approach to the criteria also makes it difficult to focus on specific areas such as race representation within the commissions.

“The fund is not just for propagation [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] BAME employment – ​​it also aims to increase the inclusion of people from a lower socio-economic background and people with disabilities – all of whom are underrepresented in the media and deserve support,” wrote Albury. “But with such a broad categorization and targets, combined with no baseline against which to measure progress, the £100m commitment may not make any difference at all.”

Elsewhere, Marcus Ryder, chair of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and head of external consultancies at the Lenny Henry Center For Media Diversity, discussed similar concerns in a lengthy Twitter thread.

Ryder wrote: “The real question is; is £44m progress? The short answer is; We have no idea. We don’t know if this is more or less than the number of different productions that will air in 2021, 2020 or even 2019. And I know for a fact that the BBC doesn’t either.”

Ryder also notes that since some of the included shows were commissioned before April 2021, the BBC did not necessarily use any money earmarked for the fund. “The fact that they count programs that were commissioned BEFORE the fund was announced means they are not ‘earmarked’ money and they don’t even measure additionality. But it’s more of a billing tool to measure the variety of programming they air,” Ryder said.

A diversity November 2021 inquiry details issues surrounding UK’s glaring shortage of various color producers When asked how many shows have been ordered by various production companies since April 2021, a BBC spokesman said at the time that the public broadcaster was still ” Identifying Programs” that meet the criteria and would provide an update in April 2022. BBC Diversity Fund update slammed as ‘smoke and mirrors’

Charles Jones

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