Floella Benjamin is one of the stars who has given the issue more prominence of late. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.