Floella Benjamin is one of the stars who has given the issue more prominence of late. Photo: Getty
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Making a permanent change to the representation of ethnicity on our screens

Sky’s Stuart Murphy explains why the broadcaster has introduced targets to combat the absence of real change in BAME representation.

This week at Sky we have announced some bold targets on how we plan to help overhaul the representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people across our entertainment channels. I found it oddly moving announcing the plans. I feel a moral responsibility, being in a position of relative power, to make this change happen and make it significant and lasting.

The television industry is one that I love; I’ve worked in it for close to twenty years, but in that time the representation of ethnic minorities has moved little from the position it was when I started at BBC Manchester in the 1990s. I’ve lost count of the number of meetings I’ve attended where extremely well-meaning liberal minded TV commissioners hear from increasingly frustrated and mobilised networks of TV professionals from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In these meetings the TV commissioners would struggle to define how the TV output in the UK had reached such a point where the representation of non-white faces was so grossly out of kilter from the nation who watched it. Training schemes were suggested, guidelines drawn up and commitments to shows aimed specifically at a BAME audience were discussed. It was usually tense, incomplete and, frankly, embarrassing. Don’t forget, this is an industry populated with people of an artistic background who celebrate diverse thought and creative endeavour. People at all levels have wanted change for some time. They just haven’t been sure what was the best and least offensive way to do it.

Recently the noise around the issue grew, thanks to the likes of Lenny Henry, Floella Benjamin and David Harewood. Politicians like Ed Vaizey and Jane Bonham Carter took a risk pushing this up the agenda and behind the scenes called broadcasters to task for their lack of nettle grasping. The Cultural Diversity Network, of which Sky is a dedicated member, has been working tirelessly on this agenda for years.

A combination of the above, and an innate sense that for some time we have not been doing what we should, led us at Sky to announce some extremely ambitious targets to make sure we make a difference which, in TV terms, is almost immediate – on air before the end of 2015.

The commitments are threefold:

Onscreen portrayal

By the end of 2015, all our brand new, non-returning TV shows in Sky Entertainment will have people from BAME backgrounds in at least 20 per cent of significant on-screen roles. We want lead actors (and not just extras) from a range of backgrounds, with diverse casting happening front and centre, in the heart of mainstream output.

Production

All of Sky’s original Entertainment productions will have someone with a BAME background in at least one senior role by the end of 2015. And we’ve defined what we mean by senior roles - Producer, Series Producer, Executive Producer, Director, Head of Production and Designer. To meet these targets, we will be working very closely with independent TV companies so we can meet these targets on time.

Writing

20 per cent of writers on all team written shows across all Sky Entertainment productions, in production by the end of 2015, will be from BAME backgrounds.

These are huge commitments and we will need help to achieve them. Targets won’t work for every broadcaster and there are bound to be people who object to such a blunt instrument. But we’ve done it in the absence of real change for years. Our commitment is public, ambitious and achievable and should, we hope, set the pace for great strides in rebalancing the industry. All of us at Sky are responsible for them. The independent production companies that work with us will need to cast their nets wider to uncover new talent pools; casting agents will need to work harder to discover new faces; and those of us who ultimately decide what goes on air will need to support choices that are different from what we and audiences have been used to. We need the production companies’ help, but I know how dynamic this industry is, and I know we can do it. I keenly feel the momentum for change right now, so I’m very pleased we’ve acted with a sense of urgency.

Sixteen months from now I want what we achieve at Sky to be the norm. I suspect targets will remain but to have served their purpose as we see a large influx of BAME professionals at senior level change the game and correct where TV looks for “best talent” on and off screen. The ambition is for our output at that stage to be representing much more accurately the variety of skin colours in the UK. It will make our programming better, make our customers happier and, fundamentally, will be fairer. It’s a massively exciting time.

Stuart Murphy is Director of Entertainment Channels at Sky

Stuart Murphy is Director of Entertainment Channels at Sky.

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To preserve the environment we hold in common, everyone has to play their part

The challenge of building a clean future based on the common good of Londoners demands that politicians, business, communities and individuals each take a share of the responsibility and of the benefits.

The environmental challenge facing our capital city can seem overwhelming. Our air is poisonous. Our infrastructure built for the fossil fuel era. The need to build a clean, low carbon future can seem incompatible with competing challenges such as protecting energy security, housing and jobs.

The way we tackle this challenge will say a lot about the type of city we are. We inherit the world we live in from the generations that went before us, and only hold it until it is time to hand it over to future generations. The type of environment we leave behind for our children and grandchildren will be affected by the decisions we need to take in the short term. Our shared inheritance must be shaped by all of us in London.

Londoners currently face some crucial decisions about the way we power our city. The majority of us don't want London to be run on dirty fuel, and instead hope to see a transition to a clean energy supply. Many want to see that clean energy sourced from within London itself. This is an appealing vision: there are upsides in terms of costs, security and, crucially, the environment.

Yet the debate about how London could achieve such a future has remained limited in its scope. Air pollution has rightly dominated the environmental debate in this year’s mayoral election, but there is a small and growing call for more renewable deployment in the city.

When it comes to cities, by far the most accessible, useable renewable energy is solar, given you can install it on some part of almost every roof. Rooftop solar gives power to the householder, the business user, the public servant - anyone with a roof over their head.  And London has upwards of one million roofs. Yet it also has the lowest deployment of solar of any UK city. London can do better. 

The new mayor should take this seriously. Their leadership will be vital to achieving the transition to clean energy. The commitments of the mayoral frontrunners should spur other parts of society to act too. Zac Goldsmith has committed to a tenfold increase in the use of solar by 2025, and Sadiq Khan has pledged to implement a solar strategy that will make the most of the city’s roofs, public buildings and land owned by Transport for London.

While the next mayor will already have access to some of the tools necessary to enact these pledges (such as the London Plan, the Greater London Assembly and TfL), Londoner’s must also play their part. We must realise that to tackle this issue at the scale and speed required the only way forward is an approach where everyone is contributing.

A transition to solar energy is in the best interests of citizens, householders, businesses and employees, who can begin to take greater control of their energy.  By working together, Londoners could follow the example of Zurich, and commit to be a 2,000 watt society by 2050. This commitment both maximizes the potential of solar and manages introduces schemes to effectively manage energy demand, ensuring the city can collectively face an uncertain future with confidence.

Unfortunately, national policy is no longer sufficient to incentivise solar deployment at the scale that London requires. There is therefore an important role for the incoming Mayor in facilitating and coordinating activity. Whether it is through TfL, existing community energy schemes, or through individuals, there is much the mayor can do to drive solar which will benefit every other city-dweller and make London a cleaner and healthier place to live.

For example the new mayor should work with residents and landlords of private and social housing to encourage the deployment of solar for those who don’t own their property. He should fill the gap left by national building standards by ensuring that solar deployment is maximized on new build housing and commercial space. He can work with the operator of the electricity grid in the capital to maximize the potential of solar and find innovative ways of integrating it into the city’s power demand.

To bring this all together London should follow the example set by Nottingham and Bristol and create it’s own energy company. As a non-profit company this could supply gas and electricity to Londoners at competitive prices but also start to drive the deployment of clean energy by providing an attractive market for the power that is generated in the city. Community schemes, businesses and householders would be able to sell their power at a price that really stacks up and Londoners would receive clean energy at competitive prices.

The challenge of building a clean future based on the common good of Londoners demands that politicians, business, communities and individuals each take a share of the responsibility and of the benefits. Lets hope the incoming Mayor sees it as their role to convene citizens around this aim, and create incentives to virtue that encourage the take up and deployment of solar, so that we have a healthy, clean and secure city to pass on to the next generation.