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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Women-only train carriages are just a way of ensuring more spaces are male by default

We don’t need the “personal choice” to sit in a non-segregated carriage to become the new short skirt.

“A decent girl,” says bus driver Mukesh Singh, “won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.”

Singh is one of four men sentenced to death for the rape and fatal assault of Jyoti Singh Pandey on a Delhi bus in 2013. His defence was that she shouldn’t have been on the bus in the first place. Presumably he’d have said the same if she’d been on a train. In the eyes of a rapist, all space is male-owned by default.

I find myself thinking of this in light of shadow fire minister Chris Williamson’s suggestion that woman-only train carriages be introduced in order to combat sexual violence on public transport. It’s an idea originally proposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, only to be shelved following criticism from female MPs.

Now Williamson feels that a rise in sex attacks on public transport has made it worth considering again. Speaking to PoliticsHome, he argues that “complemented with having more guards on trains, it would be a way of combating these attacks”. He does not bother to mention who the perpetrators might be. Bears, vampires, monsters? Doesn’t really matter. As long as you keep the bait safely stored away in a sealed compartment, no one’s going to sniff it out and get tempted. Problem solved, right?

And that’s not the only benefit of a woman-only carriage. What better way to free up space for the people who matter than to designate one solitary carriage for the less important half of the human race?

Sure, women can still go in the free-for-all, male-violence-is-inevitable, frat-house carriages if they want to. But come on, ladies - wouldn’t that be asking for it? If something were to happen to you, wouldn’t people want to know why you hadn’t opted for the safer space?

It’s interesting, at a time when gender neutrality is supposed to be all the rage, that we’re seeing one form of sex segregated space promoted while another is withdrawn. The difference might, in some cases, seem subtle, but earlier sex segregation has been about enabling women to take up more space in the world – when they otherwise might have stayed at home – whereas today’s version seem more about reducing the amount of space women already occupy.

When feminists seek to defend female-only toilets, swimming sessions and changing rooms as a means of facilitating women’s freedom of movement, we’re told we’re being, at best, silly, at worst, bigoted. By contrast, when men propose female-only carriages as a means of accommodating male violence and sexual entitlement, women are supposed to be grateful (just look at the smack-downs Labour’s Stella Creasy received for her failure to be sufficiently overjoyed).

As long as over 80 per cent of violent crime is committed by men, there can be no such thing as a gender-neutral space. Any mixed space is a male-dominated space, which is something women have to deal with every day of their lives. Our freedoms are already limited. We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about personal safety. Each time it is proposed that women don’t go there or don’t do that, just to be on the safe side, our world gets a little bit smaller. What’s more, removing the facilities we already use in order to go there or do that tends to have the exact same effect.

Regarding female-only carriages, Williamson claims “it would be a matter of personal choice whether someone wanted to make use of [them].” But what does that mean? Does any woman make the “personal choice” to put herself at risk of assault? All women want is the right to move freely without that constant low-level monologue – no, those men look fine, don’t be so paranoid, you can always do the key thing, if you’ve thought it’s going to happen that means it won’t …. We don’t need the “personal choice” to sit in a non-segregated carriage to become the new short skirt.

In 1975’s Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller pointed out that the fact that a minority of men rape “provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation”. Whether they want to or not, all men benefit from the actions of those Brownmiller calls “front-line masculine shock troops”. The violence of some men should not be used as an opportunity for all men to mark out yet more space as essentially theirs, but this is what happens whenever men “benevolently” tell us this bus, this train carriage, this item of clothing just isn’t safe enough for us.

“A decent girl,” says the future rapist, “wouldn’t have been in a mixed-sex carriage late at night.” It’s time to end this constant curtailment of women’s freedoms. A decent man would start by naming the problem – male violence – and dealing with that. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.