Historian, broadcaster and writer David Olusoga has called for a structural change in the U.K. television industry to bring about inclusiveness, but has also warned about the “lack of trust” the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic community has for the existing system after 30 years of neglect.
“We need to make structural changes, not merely seek to bring black and brown people into a system that has historically failed them,” said Olusoga, while delivering the annual James MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Monday, held virtually for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While acknowledging the promised improvements among U.K. broadcasters as an effect of the Black Lives Matter movement, Olusoga referred to a legacy of lack of trust. “Thirty years of failed initiatives and ineffective training schemes, and the constant haemorrhaging of BAME, talent has left another legacy,” said Olusoga. “A lack of trust so deep that the announcements and initiatives of 2020 have been met, by many black and brown people in the industry, not with enthusiasm and excitement but with scepticism born of repeated disappointment.”
“This task has not been helped by the fact that in the same week the BBC held its diversity festival to promote and celebrate diverse talent the corporation publicly defend the use of the N word – on two occasions,” Olusoga said.
The lack of trust also extends to industry regulator Ofcom, Olusoga said. “If Ofcom is not able or not willing to hold the industry accountable on diversity and inclusion, or able to use its power to set minimum standards, then the DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] should set up a new body willing to do so. This moment in 2020, with so much money on the table and so many promises made, is the perfect time for such a body to be brought into existence. This is not asking for a revolution but merely asking for accountability.”
Olusoga also said that along with broadcasters, independent producers also need to be held accountable.
Olusoga said that running industry training schemes and monitoring would not lead to real change unless the industry accepted that merely having Black people in the room was not enough. “The industry also needs to listen to us, to value our perspectives and our stories, to understand that we come from a different place, consume different culture, read different books, and see the world from a different perspective,” Olusoga said. “And that that perspective is valuable.”
On a hopeful note, Olusoga said: “This time it does feel different. The response of the U.K. broadcasters to Black Lives Matter are different in multiple respects, distinct from the initiatives of the past. There is a new determination among the broadcasters to drive diversity into senior management, at board level and critically in commissioning. But is there a willingness for real structural and cultural change? And where will accountability come from? Who will determine if the money pledged is actually spent and if recruitment targets are met?”
“So in the end it comes down to this: Does our industry have the will to genuinely share power with those who have, for so very long, been marginalized and silenced?” Olusoga asked.