The BBC as a top media institution must do better. Operating since June 1920, it has provided the world with primarily radio and television broadcasts, delivering breaking news, commentary and entertainment through assorted mediums. However, the BBC must get it right on race.
Over the years, the BBC has not been a stranger to accusations of racism. Last year, Naga Munchetty, a BBC journalist became embroiled in a BBC race row after comments she made, on air, relating to her personal experience of racism, which resulted in a complaint being made by a viewer.
At the time, an email from the BBC’s executive committee, stated “Diversity matters hugely. The success of the BBC is built on the quality and diversity of our people. That is not negotiable.”
Now, the BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ David Whitely, who goes by the moniker Sideman, quit the corporation, after a racist term, ‘the N–word’ was used in a news report. Sideman said “It felt like a slap in the face to our community.” The BBC has issued an apology, but is it enough?
Does The Past Dictate The Future?
It took the BBC’s Director General, Sir Tony Hall a whole 10 days to apologise for the use of the racist slur, following some 18,000 complaints from viewers.
All this in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, which saw global protests against systematic racism, which received almost continuous coverage by the news corporation. The BBC has to get it right on racism. The corporation, has since its very beginnings, been a white led organisation.
The facts are that since its incorporation, the BBC Chairs of the Board of Governors, BBC Trust and the BBC Board have all been white, middle class or aristocracy. The only female to serve was Baroness Rona Fairhead, who served between 2014 and 2017.
This surely does not represent any form of action to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of the BBC. Recent reports show that Black and other minority ethnic individuals, represent only 4.6% of the UK’s most powerful roles. Taking this into account, with the long-standing homogeneous make-up of the BBC leadership, surely it is time for the BBC to embed racial equality at the top.
How long does the BBC believe that it can continue to operate a business through which taxpayers are compelled to pay a license fee, whilst it continues to marginalise issues of race equality? Coverage of issues around racism is simply not enough. The institution itself must work to make its leadership for inclusive at the top.
Media must Embed Diversity and Inclusion
Media has a problem with the representation of Black people and the stereotypes that typically surround the coverage of non-white people. Whilst this is a constant concern of black and minority ethnic communities, the negative stereotyping of Black people, including racial slurs, cannot be tolerated in a society, where a significant part of the population is reeling from the effects of institutional racism.
Leadership is accountable and organisational culture must change. The mere fact that leadership within the BBC is homogeneous, gives cause for concern around its ability to truly understand the impact of racism, on communities of colour.
The death of George Floyd, and other instances that have highlighted the racism and unfair treatment that Black people face within society is instructive. The time for change is now.
No amount of statements to affirm solidarity with Black people will suffice, if leaders fail to destroy the systemic nature of racism, with authentic actions. Perhaps by diversifying its leadership team, to include peoples of different races and backgrounds, the BBC can build cognizance around inclusion.
Creating A More Inclusive Future
Change can happen but like all things, it requires a willingness and a commitment to do so. The BBC must transition and become a part of a world that is changing. Old habits may die hard, but change is a must. As a globally recognised brand, the corporation should seek to get with the program and understand that the world is changing around it, and like it or not, its consumers live in that changing world.
Is it time for the BBC to modernize its leadership? I hazard a guess that the answer is yes. The corporation is operating within a framework where young people, of all races, have sounded their opposition to living in a space where their parents faced lifelong racism. It is not a world in which they want to reside, and they have made their voices clear. The BBC even filmed them on protest after protest! Yet, this organisation still deemed the use of the ‘N–word’ appropriate and took 10 days to sound an official apology. Certainly, recent events have highlighted the need for the organisation to change.
Charging consumers to listen to racial slurs on its platform does not sit comfortably with some consumers and as a global media entity, perhaps the BBC should be more considerate of its environment. The world has changed. Conversations around race equality are at the forefront of public and private discourse.
It remains to be seen if the leadership within the BBC will give this issue the consideration that it deserves. Taking 10 days to issue an apology for something that, in these pivotal times, should have taken a matter of hours at most, is instructive of the importance that the leadership takes on these matters. Will the BBC continue to operate in this way, or is there a strategy to move from the status quo on issues of race? The answer remains to be seen.
Carmen Morris is a diversity and inclusion consultant and Managing director of Kenroi Consulting. She is also a speaker on inclusion and a contributor on leadership and diversity and inclusion on Forbes.com