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Public Sector Broadcasting (Diversity)

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2015

[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered diversity in public sector broadcasting.

It is a pleasure to consider this matter under your excellent and expert chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and to lead this debate on an important subject. Public sector broadcasting is sometimes more broadly known as public service broadcasting, because although the BBC, Channel 4 and S4C are effectively publicly owned, ITV and Channel 5 both have public service obligations as part of their broadcast licences. Ofcom defines the purpose of public service broadcasting as:

“Informing our understanding of the world; stimulating knowledge and learning; reflecting UK cultural identity; representing diversity and alternative viewpoints.”

Public service broadcasters have a duty to represent the public.

The United Kingdom is a vibrant, diverse, complex and at times eccentric country, and it is essential that our public service broadcasters should reflect that—indeed, that is why we have public service broadcasting. Left to itself, the market would not; anyone who has watched “Fox News” cannot fail to agree with that.

I will touch on all aspects of diversity, as I believe there is still much to be done. I want to concentrate on an area that has had little coverage and few initiatives: class and region.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for introducing, in this of all weeks, this important topic to a public debate. I share her concern about the lack of representation in public service broadcasting generally, and in the public sector.

Will she permit me to clear up one misunderstanding that has arisen in relation to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair? As matters stand, my Committee has no women or black and minority ethnic members. That is not because of any planned structure or other institutional arrangement, but because no women or black and minority ethnic candidates stood for election. That is highly regrettable, from my point of view. I wish that they had done so and that there was a bigger pool in Parliament from which such candidates could have offered themselves. We are, as matters currently stand, working within the rules of the House. I thank the hon. Lady for allowing me to put that on the public record.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which illustrates something of the challenge that we face. He said eloquently that he wished there was a larger pool of women and black and minority ethnic Members in the House from which people could have put themselves forward to his Committee. It is regrettable that there is not and that no women or black and minority ethnic Members put themselves forward; having an entirely male and pale Select Committee representing the House on such matters does not do justice to the House and does not reflect well on it or its reputation. I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record.

Lest it be considered that that Committee is entirely composed of majorities, we should remember that there is another minority: gay people. As a gay member of the Committee, I should like to put that on the record.

That is something that I wish to focus on. The definition of “diversity” is broader than gender and ethnicity alone, although those are two important and very visible aspects.

Reflecting the reality of this country is important. Whether on screen or radio, writing scripts, researching programme guests, operating cameras or in the boardroom, all involved in the broadcasting value chain should strive to ensure that the content they produce, their leadership and their employees look and sound like the country of which they are part. There are two important reasons for this.

First, fairness is a value on which the British people pride themselves. A recent survey by British Social Attitudes found that 95% of people agree that

“in a fair society every person should have an equal opportunity to get ahead.”

Research by YouGov found that 78% of the British public thinks

“it should be the government’s job to ensure that rich and poor children should have the same chances.”

It is not fair that every household in the country pays the licence fee, but only certain types of households are represented on the BBC. It is not fair that such an important part of our national culture and conversation should exclude important parts of our nation.

Secondly, there is an economic and business case for diversity. Organisations that do not take full advantage of the wide range of creativity and talent on offer in this country are depriving themselves of potential. This month, Tim Hincks, president of Endemol Shine Group, which produces such well-known programmes as “Big Brother”, “Masterchef” and “Broadchurch”, said that the BBC was “hideously middle class” and that

“we’re hampering ourselves by not fishing in a bigger pool.”

We are losing the creativity that comes from people of different backgrounds mixing, and mixing it up.

Earlier this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, had a rather public disagreement with James Blunt. I agree that

“it is really tough forging a career in the arts if you can’t afford the enormous fees for drama school, if you don’t know anybody who can give you a leg up, if your parents can’t subsidise you for a few years whilst you make your name and if you can’t afford to take on an unpaid internship.”

Like my hon. Friend, I want everyone to be able to take part in the arts—I do not want any no-go areas for young people from less privileged backgrounds. Indeed, it is often those who have had to struggle through the hardest of backgrounds who have some of the most interesting stories to share.

We are proud that this year’s Oscar for best male actor was won by the British Eddie Redmayne, who was discovered when a casting director saw him in a school show. His school was Eton. When I asked at a broadcasting event recently how often casting directors attended performances at schools like my old school, Kenton comp, people thought I must be joking. I was not.

One thing that makes this country great is our culture; we export it around the world and punch well above our weight. Jobs in our creative industries now represent one in every 12 in the UK. According to figures published today, which I am sure the Minister is aware of, arts and culture are now worth £7.7 billion in gross value added to the British economy. That increased by more than a third between 2010 and 2013. John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, said yesterday that the creative industries

“are central to our economy, our public life and our nation’s health.”

I agree. As our public service broadcasters are at the forefront of our creative industries, I hope and expect them to be at the forefront of promoting diversity.

The people of Britain deserve equal opportunities, regardless of their socioeconomic background, postcode or accent. As Owen Jones said in his recent book, “The Establishment”:

“Where institutions rely on too narrow a range of people from too narrow a range of backgrounds with too narrow a range of experiences they risk behaving in ways and focussing on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society…Because the media disproportionately recruits from such a privileged layer of society, there are inevitable consequences for how journalists look at news stories, or how they decide what issues are priorities.”

I want to recognise and put on the record the progress made in many areas. I have been a regular Radio 4 listener since the age of 16, thanks to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, which first drew me to that station. In my North Kenton council estate, and even as a student in Elephant and Castle and a struggling young professional, I often thought that the station was peopled by emissaries from a different galaxy: they had no visible means of financial support and had all gone to one of the schools that call themselves public while excluding 99% of the public.

I am pleased to say that received pronunciation is no longer the sole voice of the BBC. We have more women on the air, although they tend to be younger and better looking than their male counterparts; that could be the subject of an extended debate on its own. There are more people from minority backgrounds, although, to be frank, it would be impossible for there to be fewer. Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics achieved record viewing levels, and for the first time put people with disabilities into a prolonged primetime viewing spot in a positive way. I pay tribute to Channel 4 for that.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the participation and portrayal of disabled people in public sector media. Does she also agree that it is incumbent on broadcasters to think about how they portray disabled people and people from other minorities? Much of that portrayal can be disrespectful and humiliating, leaving people with a strong sense of alienation and under-representation.

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does in this area. She is absolutely right. I will touch on the issue in more detail, but it is about how people are portrayed as well as the airtime and minutes. Broadcasters will often portray disabled people in a way that can appear patronising if there are no people with that disability in their ranks.

Ofcom’s latest review—this relates to the earlier intervention from the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson)—found that a majority of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community felt under-represented on screen. Fewer than a fifth said they were portrayed negatively to audiences. The figure is still too high, but it is improving. While we should all compliment the broadcasters on having made progress, the fact is that the country has changed, too. It is more diverse than ever, with less deference and higher expectations. Broadcasters have finally entered the 1970s in the representation of diversity. In the meantime, young viewers today are likely to live into the 22nd century, although that is perhaps less likely for you and me, Mr Streeter. Sir Lenny Henry said last year:

“The evolution of BAME involvement in British TV seems to lurch one step forward and two steps back.”

According to the House of Commons Library, people with disabilities still make up fewer than 1% of people appearing on television, despite being 20% of the audience.

One area where little progress has been made is the representation of working-class people, particularly those not in London. It was telling for me that most of the briefings I received for today’s debate from many organisations—including the BBC, for example—did not even mention socioeconomic background or the regions. Perhaps those organisations took one look at me or my name and made assumptions about where my interests might lie. Tim Hincks, who I quoted earlier, said that

“no measure of diversity can be truly meaningful without measuring…social background and social mobility.”

Ofcom does look at regional background. It recently found that London and the south-east are still the most highly represented regions in daily broadcasting. Viewers from across the UK were more likely to think that too many people from London and the south-east are shown on TV, compared with other regions, and I am inclined to agree. Despite two thirds of people agreeing that it was important, only 44% of English audiences scored public service broadcasters highly when it comes to portraying their region. I was quite upset when last year’s Great North Run Million—a spectacular event on the banks of the Tyne, with fireworks, Sting, Ant and Dec, Jimmy Nail and various other stars—was given no live national coverage, although I am glad to say that the recent BBC coverage of “Hadrian’s Wall of Sound” was a great tribute to our region and to my city.

Touching on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) made, negative stereotypes of people and regions are more likely to find their way on to the airwaves when there is a lack of those people or residents of those regions in the cast, crew and, most importantly, leadership of those organisations. Those stereotypes apply to socioeconomic background, gender and the regions in which we are born, as well as to those with a disability, BME people and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Specifically on regional background, two years ago the “BBC Breakfast” business presenter, Stephanie McGovern, who is from Teesside, said that she got a break only because of one editor taking a gamble on someone with an accent. She said that

“despite being a business journalist at the BBC for ten years, working behind the scenes on our high-profile news programmes, I was viewed by some in the organisation to be ‘too common for telly’.”

I might prefer the Geordie accent, but I still want to hear my friends and neighbours on Teesside as much as I do my friends from London, Wales and south Devon.

There are no doubt many similar stories. One example is that of Aaqil Ahmed, the head of religion and ethics at the BBC. Last year, he said that while he had no problem climbing the first few rungs of his career ladder, when it came to senior management,

“there are few people with similar cultural or socio-economic backgrounds to mine and that has in my opinion hindered me, not completely but enough for me to find it hard to navigate a way forward. There is a lack of diversity of socio-economic classes the higher up the food chain you get”.

I make it clear that I do not support diversity in broadcasting simply because I admire the Geordie accent, or the folk singing of the Unthanks, or the original writing of the Live Theatre, or the music of Hawthorn school’s symphony choir, or the original productions of Northern Stage, or the artistic expression of the Wilson Twins, or the comic timing of the Theatre Royal’s annual pantomime or all the great stories from young and old to be found in Elswick, Benwell and Scotswood, West Gosforth, Westgate, Wingrove, Kenton, Blakelaw or Fenham in my constituency. Nor is it simply that I want to see more northern and working-class culture on the national stage, although I do. I support diversity because there is an economic benefit associated not only with having a vibrant artistic culture, but with being known for having it.

Since becoming an MP, I have been appalled by the lack of knowledge of north-east culture among some of those tasked with selling the north-east abroad. Whether it is about retaining the talented graduates of our great universities or attracting inward investment, we need north-eastern working-class culture to be valued abroad and at home. The working-class environment in which I grew up had many stories to tell—it still does—but we seem to hear the same types of story from the same types of people. “Coronation Street” was revolutionary when it was launched and I pay tribute to ITV for it, but it is an indictment of the industry that, 50 years later, we are still talking about it as revolutionary in representing the working class.

We are not in this position because of some plot, or even because of incompetence. A great deal of effort has been made by the public service broadcasters, and others feeding into and from the same talent pool, to improve diversity. In the past 15 years, 29 initiatives have been aimed at increasing BME representation alone. The BBC has a fund for increasing BME representation and has asked to be judged on its progress in the coming years. Channel 4 has recently doubled spending, with its new Alpha Fund schemes to support new diverse writing talent from the north of England, and regional outreach programmes. It has also introduced commissioning diversity guidelines. ITV does not have figures or targets, but it says that it is committed to ensuring that commissioners

“play a full part in maximising the growth of diverse talent and increasing diversity on screen”.

The trade body for independent producers, PACT—the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television—has a diversity programme that is now in its third year, and it takes part in the pan-industry monitoring programme known as Project Diamond.

There is not a lack of effort but a lack of results, which means a lack of will at the highest echelons. True will to change would mean more resources but also proper targets and incentives through monitoring and mainstreaming the challenge—that is, making it part of the culture of an organisation, so that a wide range of executives, commissioners and producers are accountable. The problem may manifest itself to me and my constituents through a lack of northern or working-class stories and people on air, but it actually starts far higher up. Selection or recruitment bias is a well-known phenomenon in which people tend to hire people who look or sound like themselves. That might explain why, a couple of years ago, Radio 4 had an all-male panel discussing breast cancer the day after an all-male panel discussed teenage pregnancies—truly a low point.

How can public service broadcasters fulfil their purpose of representing diversity and alternative viewpoints if they exclude certain voices, or hear from them only in benefit tourism-type orgies of disapproval? How can we be sure to discuss issues that are important to people in Newcastle as well as in London? Why is more original independent programming not commissioned in the north-east, by independent north-east companies?

The Minister takes diversity very seriously, and I pay tribute to him for that. Indeed, I should perhaps have declared a familial interest, in that my brother is an independent TV producer who has been involved in one of the Minister’s review boards. I am sure that the Minister will mention the £100,000 that he recently gave to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop guidance on diversity in broadcasting. Nevertheless, the fact is that that guidance does not mention socioeconomic background once. Why is that?

Some 83% of new entrants to journalism do internships that are almost entirely unpaid and are predominantly based in London. No one from my council estate could have supported themselves on such an internship in London. I ensure that all my internships that last longer than a week are living-wage internships—the real living wage, not what the Chancellor announced in his Budget, which had the young as one of its principal targets and will not improve the ability of talented young people to enter broadcasting. Without action, we are unlikely see improvements to the current situation in which 54 of the top 100 media professionals and 26% of all BBC executives went to independent schools, compared with 7% of the public as a whole.

In 2013, I challenged Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” over the number of female guests on the programme from an engineering and scientific background. I was struck by the fact that not only did the programme makers not know, but they seemed to think it was rather indecent that they should be expected to keep track of the voices to which they were giving a platform. If such things are not even monitored, how can we hope to improve them? In an era of big data—a policy area that, interestingly, is also part of the Minister’s brief—it is surprising that big media does not routinely collect those sorts of data across all channels and programmes. I am sure that there are many geeks who are willing to show them how to do it.

There are many schemes, but if we have little idea of the scale of the challenge, no idea of how effective the schemes are and no targets or incentives to meet them, it is little surprise that the situation is not changing very quickly. I have previously written to Ofcom on the representation of regions. Although it monitors a variety of on and off-screen diversity data, it too does not seem to look at people’s regional and socioeconomic backgrounds. Why not?

I want to make it clear to the Minister that I understand and champion the independence of the BBC and all broadcasters from Government interference. Indeed, I should be clear that I do not think it is for the BBC to implement social policy. One of the characters in the excellent BBC comedy “W1A” suggested that if the BBC could not make itself more diverse, it should work to make the population at large less diverse. That was satire. However, by charging the BBC with implementing benefits for the over-75s, the Government are blurring the distinction between satire and reality.

I strongly support the BBC and broadcasters more generally being independent and having clear and transparent funding, but, as with any aspect of our society or economy, I have a duty to speak up for my constituents where public sector broadcasting might not be acting in their interests, just as I criticise the UK tech sector for its lack of diversity.

I have a few questions for the Minister. Does he share my concern that our creative industries are missing out on a huge pool of creative and managerial talent? Does he agree that, as well as gender and ethnicity, socioeconomic background and region are important? Does he further agree that much more progress must be made in those areas? Will he mandate or encourage the collection of data, so that we know the size of the challenge? Is he aware of the different initiatives that are being undertaken, and what is his assessment of them? For example, I welcome Channel 4’s commitment to increase from 3% to 9% its investment in productions from outside England by 2020, but neither Ofcom nor the BBC Trust publishes figures on the proportion of funding that goes to independent producers. Will he rectify that? What steps will he take to ensure that working-class kids have a voice in broadcasting? What steps will he take to ensure that film and radio are produced independently in the north-east? Finally, does he think that it would be possible to get a casting agent to go to a show at a northern state school?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) on securing this important debate. I speak for Plaid Cymru, which values diversity in all aspects of broadcasting, including gender, race and locality. For my party, broadcasting means not only the visual medium, but audio too, because our concern is about English-language and Welsh-language broadcasting in Wales, which is a significant aspect of diversity. TV and radio should sound, as well as look, like the community that they serve.

My concern is about the particular situation in Wales, which largely involves BBC Cymru Wales, ITV Cymru Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, which broadcasts Welsh language radio, and S4C, all of which contribute to the diversity of voices and images that we hear on the radio and see on our TV screens. It is of concern that English-language broadcasting in Wales is weak and does not really reflect the strength of local communities or the diversity of the English-language community in Wales when compared with the rest of the UK. Indeed, the Audience Council Wales, which works with the BBC, reported today that the 2014-15 budget has decreased and that the number of people tuning into BBC Wales has fallen, a pattern which is probably reflected in other parts of the UK’s local and regional broadcasting.

Given the ubiquity of Anglo-American broadcasting on television, I sometimes think that my constituents in Arfon know more of the workings of the LAPD than of the NWP—North Wales Police. I am sure that they could quote the procedures of the LAPD much more effectively. Print journalism in Wales is also weak, leading to a deficit of democratic debates. People in Wales tend to read newspapers from England—from London—and the coverage of Welsh life in general, and Welsh politics in particular, is small and vanishing. In fact, it was said that in one particular year the only coverage of Welsh agriculture on network news was the famous case of Shambo the Hindu bull, which was facing slaughter. That was the only thing reported about Welsh agriculture in an entire year—an “and finally” story if there was ever was one.

The main way for Welsh people to hear of events in Wales is through “Wales Today”, the BBC’s flagship Welsh news programme. It attracts an audience of nearly 300,000, which is good news—certainly for politicians—for TV diversity. Even given that success, and the BBC’s success in producing Welsh-language programmes for S4C, the Audience Council Wales has characterised broadcasts in English in Wales as being “closer to the cliff edge”, which must be a concern for Opposition Members and for the Minister.

I must inevitably turn to the most obvious example of diversity in UK broadcasting: a UK channel that does not even broadcast in English, namely S4C or Sianel Pedwar Cymru. I hardly need to remind the Minister of the cuts to S4C’s funding, not least the 93% cut in direct Government funding when they dumped most of the funding burden on the BBC. There is a measure of the 15-minute weekly reach of BBC programmes on S4C. In 2014-15, 131,000 people in Wales were watching such programmes. In 2013-14, however, the figure was higher at 155,000. I do not know whether that decline is permanent or perhaps just a feature of one year, but a drop of 24,000 must be of concern. All broadcasters face the challenge of declining audiences as people choose alternative ways of viewing programmes, such as online and, as it were, “out of time”, but S4C is the only Welsh TV broadcaster. It is the only place in the world—the universe—where Welsh-language TV programmes are available. In that respect, its decline is particularly serious and dangerous for the diversity of UK broadcasting in general.

That decline is countered somewhat by an increase in the accessing of BBC material online. I must be personally responsible for a large chunk of that, given that I watch BBC Cymru’s online output many times a day. Weekly hits have increased from 40,000 in 2013-14 to 89,000 in 2014-15, so growth has been rapid. I am also glad to say that young people are very much responsible for that growth, which is a hopeful sign for our future.

Broadcasters need continuity of proper funding. It is a long-term business, and its base of expertise could be lost in a fairly short period of time. It needs that continuity in order to develop the world-class Welsh-language broadcasting that we need. The Minister will be aware of the campaign started by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg—the Welsh Language Society—calling for statutory funding for S4C through a levy on larger broadcasters. I do not know how realistic that is—the Minister may like to comment in his response—but I am certain that we will hear a good deal more of that campaign over the coming months. This is just friendly advice and not in any way a warning, but the Welsh Language Society is very determined.

I might be knocking at a closed door, but I will end by saying that my party’s policy is for the devolution of broadcasting to the Welsh Government. The crucial matter—I think Labour colleagues share this view—is that broadcasting must have security of funding before that devolution can happen.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) for securing this debate, which is timely and worthwhile and particularly relevant to my constituents, given that the BBC, since its move to MediaCity in the north-west, has become an important potential employer.

The BBC is quite rightly held in high regard in this country and around the world, but we must focus on areas where its service needs to be improved. Lord Reith summarised the BBC’s purpose in three words: inform, educate, entertain. That remains part of the organisation’s mission statement to this day, but public sector broadcasting needs to address other matters: inclusivity, diversity, equality, fairness and representation. My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the lack of people from regional and working-class backgrounds on our screens and in management roles, but I will talk specifically about the representation of disabled people and about gender.

Quite simply, there are not enough disabled people on television. The BBC has announced plans to quadruple the number of people with disabilities that it puts on television by 2017, but those plans sound more impressive than they are. Just 1.2% of the people on BBC television are disabled. Quadrupling that figure will take it to only 5%. Disabled people make up about 18% of the population, so even 5% is 13 percentage points too few. For BBC television to fairly represent the disabled community and accurately reflect British society, the proportion of disabled people it shows needs to be multiplied not by four but by 15.

The disabled community is a cross-section of society. There are disabled people of every age, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and political inclination. People with disabilities are frequently robbed of self-representation. In film, disabled characters are all too often portrayed by able-bodied people. I am glad that the BBC created the position of disability correspondent, but for disabled people to be properly integrated into television they need to appear constantly in programming that is not wholly about disability. It would be good if the BBC met its targets for increasing the number of people with disabilities in scripted entertainment by ensuring that more disabled characters are created and more disabled actors are employed to play them. An equally excellent and important strategy would be to ensure that more disabled actors are cast in roles for which it is immaterial whether the character is disabled or not.

Although great strides have been made on the portrayal of women by our public service broadcasters—there are many more women on our screens than there used to be—there is still a long way to go. Women make up 51% of the population, yet they are still under-represented on television and in management roles. In 2013, less than 18% of TV presenters over 50—not just in the news—were women. The BBC has a special duty, through the universality of the licence fee, to lead the way. It has identified gender equality as a priority. Tony Hall announced that, by 2015, 50% of breakfast presenters on local radio should be women. That is a good first step, but targets are needed in the news room, too. At present, there are not even publicly available gender statistics on the BBC broadcast reporters. What we see matters to all of us, and equality cannot be left to chance.

Watching or listening to a news broadcast might give the impression that there are plenty of women involved in news and current affairs broadcasting. On the surface, women appear to be well-represented. However, a closer look at the statistics shows that, despite making up more than half the population and a larger proportion of the TV and radio audience, women are severely under-represented on and off air in news and current affairs broadcasting.

A landmark House of Lords Select Committee on Communications report on women in news and current affairs broadcasting, published in 2015, highlighted concerns about the representation of women in news and current affairs broadcasting because of the genre’s wide reach and role in shaping public perceptions about society. It is well-documented that although women make up a significant share of broadcasters’ workforces, they are under-represented in flagship news. One study showed that there are three male reporters in flagship news programmes for every female reporter.

The House of Lords Committee also argued that women are poorly represented as experts in news and current affairs coverage. It underlined the expert women campaign run by Broadcast magazine in partnership with City University. It heard evidence that women make up only 26% of the people interviewed as experts or commentators and 26% of those interviewed as spokespersons.

In a typical month, about 72% of the BBC’s “Question Time” contributors and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio 4’s “Today” programme are men. The situation for older women is particularly bad. The Lords Committee heard from a number of journalists, including Miriam O’Reilly, who won an age discrimination case against the BBC. It concluded:

“The number of older women in news and current affairs broadcasting is too low. Evidence we have received suggests there is an informal culture of discrimination against older women within the BBC and other broadcasting organisations.”

I am always interested in the Miriam O’Reilly case. She won the case, as we know, but has anyone seen her subsequently on screen?

That is a very good question. I do not believe she has been able to find gainful employment in the media since the case. I have seen her, because she stood for the seat for which I was selected to be the Labour party’s candidate.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is a very good point. From talking to Miriam O’Reilly, I feel that by taking the case against the BBC she destroyed her career in broadcasting. It is extremely unfortunate, but it highlights the problems still facing women in the media.

It is extremely important that older women are represented on television as role models for younger women, for today’s older women and, indeed, for everyone. They have much to contribute. Gone are the days when women were seldom heard or seen in news and current affairs broadcasts. Nevertheless, our public sector broadcasters, Ofcom and the Government have a long way to go to achieve genuine gender balance, for older women in particular.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) on securing this debate on diversity in public sector broadcasting.

I find myself in agreement with all the Opposition Members’ speeches. I cannot pretend there is an anti-Scottish bias as far as screen accents are concerned, in stark contrast to the bias against the English regions. From first-hand experience—I was a broadcaster myself—I can tell hon. Members that the BBC is comfortable with Scottish accents, and there are plenty of them, fortunately.

I did not know that the hon. Lady would raise the issue of the under-representation of other minorities—not least lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Again, I can speak from personal experience. When I came out as gay when I was presenting “BBC Breakfast” on BBC 1, which I did for a number of years, I found that I was the first mainstream TV news presenter to do so. When I told the press office staff that I had given an interview to the Daily Mail, and that when asked about my home life I had been honest, they were aghast and told me that no BBC presenter had ever been openly gay before. I said: “Perhaps in news nobody has been openly gay before, but what about other fields?” They said that no one in any field had ever been openly gay. Larry Grayson and John Inman were, according to their BBC biographical notes, apparently just waiting for the right woman to come along.

That was in the year 2000, and I am not sure that much has changed. Why does it matter? As the hon. Lady rightly said, the faces and voices on TV, especially in news, should reflect the society in which we live. It is all about trust. I am the Scottish National party’s spokesman on culture, media and sport, and inevitably Scotland is my specialist field and interest. The BBC Trust in Scotland reports that less than half of the people in Scotland believe that the corporation represents their life. That is the lowest level of trust in the BBC of any of the nations in the United Kingdom, but it is no coincidence, given the number of TV programmes that are commissioned in Scotland and the jobs in Scotland.

Comparisons are worth while, so hon. Members must forgive me for providing some figures. Programmes originating in Scotland from BBC Scotland account for 2,321 hours, whereas in Ireland Raidió Teilifís Éireann commissions 4,700 hours, and in Finland, Yle commissions 4,900 hours. There is a terrible dearth of commissioning in Scotland. What about jobs? BBC Scotland employs 1,200 people, RTÉ 1,800 and the Finnish Yle 3,500. Money? BBC Scotland receives £201 million, RTÉ £286 million and Yle £386 million. Of course there is the added absurdity that Scotland is perhaps the only country in the world where the main 6 o’clock news programme runs no foreign news of any kind. There could be Armageddon in Carlisle and it would run an air show in Carluke as the main news story. It is a most peculiar position and it is one reason why the SNP is keen on having a Scottish 6 o’clock news with proper news values—local, national, UK and international news chosen on the basis of merit, as happens on the radio.

I am surprised to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Is he saying that if for example something happened in Newcastle, less than 100 miles down the road, it would not be reported in the Scottish news?

No, it would not. “Reporting Scotland” does not report anything outside Scotland. It is a peculiar situation and very different from Radio Scotland, which makes decisions based entirely on news merit.

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that BBC Wales in English tends to be about Wales—some might say parochially about Wales—but that Radio Cymru and the BBC news in Welsh have amazing agility and an ability to identify Welsh speakers at the far ends of the globe. They can report in Welsh on earthquakes in Peru, or wherever it might be, almost immediately. That shows the value of broadcasters that are very close to the people they serve. Like the mafia, they know where they live. They know who they are.

That is a charming comparison of BBC Welsh bosses with the mafia; I am sure they would welcome it.

There is enshrined, entrenched provincialism in much of the output of BBC Scotland. There have been some improvements, but in 2006, BBC commissioning accounted for only 3.5% of content from Scotland. That went up to 9% in 2011. The Channel 4 figure went up from 2.6% in 2006 to 4.1% in 2010. There were significant improvements in Gaelic broadcasting under the SNP Government. In 2007 when they took charge, there was limited Gaelic broadcasting, but the SNP has found £12 million per annum to fund BBC Alba, which now reaches 500,000 people a month. To put that in context, there are only 100,000 Gaelic speakers, so 400,000 people are watching it hoping to understand it. I should of course mention that it is subtitled, so they will understand it.

We are calling for the Scottish Government to be involved closely in all aspects of charter renewal, because Lord Smith was vague when he talked about SNP Government involvement. He said that the Government in Scotland should be involved, but did not specify how. It was our intention during consideration of the Scotland Bill to delete completely the reservation of broadcasting from the Scotland Act 1998, and we offered an amendment to that effect. Unfortunately, it was rejected by Scotland’s single Tory Member of Parliament, who is of course the Secretary of State for Scotland in the peculiar constitutional arrangement that we have.

We believe that responsibility for broadcasting should be transferred from Westminster to Holyrood. We believe in the retention of the TV licence. We believe in a fairer share of BBC income to reflect the licence fee revenue raised in Scotland, which would provide a boost of some £100 million, stimulating the creative sector and production in Scotland. We think the Scottish Government and Parliament should have a substantial role at all stages of charter renewal, leading to legislative responsibility for the BBC in Scotland. Just as Scotland already has devolved responsibility for press regulation, so too should it have devolved responsibility for broadcasting. Indeed, given the climate of hostility towards the BBC and public service broadcasting from the Government, there is a good argument for saying that the BBC would be safer in Scottish hands. It will be remembered that the Secretary of State’s appointment was greeted thus by various newspapers. The Sun said, “it’s payback time” and The Daily Telegraph declared that there was to be “war on the BBC”. Well, by their friends shall ye know them.

It is no secret that many in Scotland were deeply disappointed by the BBC’s behaviour during the referendum, which fell far short of high journalistic standards, because of a perceived lack of objectivity, but there is a difference between the way we responded to that, and the way that the Government see the BBC. We felt a bit like disappointed lovers discovering the infidelity of someone we rather cared for. The Government, of course, feel very differently. We do not share the post-divorce visceral hatred for the BBC felt by so many on the Tory Front Bench—assuming, of course, that a marriage ever took place.

I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central for securing the debate, in which there is strong Scottish interest. Beyond that, her general points about the vital need for diversity are well made. I hope that all hon. Members on both sides of the House share that view.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) for a thoughtful, insightful and passionate debate on a subject of great importance. Her speech was fascinating for the range—indeed, the diversity—of the material it covered. The issue is about fairness, and there is also a strong economic argument. There was a range of other issues too, including how various regions and nations of the UK are portrayed, as well as accents. It was an important speech.

I thank hon. Members who took part in the debate. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) raised important issues to do with English and Welsh language broadcasting, including S4C in Wales. Perhaps I may cheekily tag on to what he said an issue that I do not think he mentioned directly, but which is related and important. That is to do with BBC broadcasting in Wales, and making sure that all the regions in Wales are represented. For instance, I am thinking of the sad loss of BBC Radio Clwyd, when colleagues across the border have BBC Radio Shropshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) made a powerful speech, especially as it related to disabled people’s representation, or lack of it, and to that majority that is often a minority—namely us women.

There are three public sector broadcasters: the BBC, Channel 4 and S4C. Wider public service broadcasting includes the main channels of ITV, STV, UTV and Channel 5. Key among those, of course, is the BBC. As we all know, we are about to start the process of BBC charter review. The sections of the Green Paper that have not already been leaked will be published on Thursday and the Culture Secretary will deliver an oral statement. I hope that all hon. Members who are present will be able to attend. We will then finally be able to get on with charter review, with less than a year and a half to go before it runs out; although one might be forgiven for thinking that we have already started, with the Conservatives briefing against the BBC, forcing it to accept back-room deals, and seeming already to have decided what they want. In the words of the Secretary of State:

“My private view has always been that you have a much smaller BBC doing a much more targeted output of clear public-service content.”

So a shrunken, weakened BBC, which does not try to provide something for everything, left doing worthy posh programmes, as America’s Public Broadcasting Service does. Most of us do not want a BBC like PBS, which has to interrupt its shows to beg for donations. Most of us want diversity. Think of the irony, if we had a BBC that showed not “The Voice”, but instead endless speeches by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on BBC Parliament—that makes no sense.

We will campaign with the public for a big, bold BBC at the heart of our national life, showing popular programmes and providing something for everyone, a BBC that carries out the mission of its first director-general, John Reith, to “inform, educate and entertain”. The public will have their say, and we will see what kind of BBC they want, the kind of country they want. An extraordinary statistic in this digital age is the 97% of the UK population who use a BBC service every week and, if the Government pick a fight with the public over the BBC, it is not too difficult to guess who might come out worse.

The BBC is not perfect. That is why an open and consultative charter review is important. We can gather the views of the public and examine where the BBC is doing well and where it can improve. One area to improve on is clearly diversity, today’s topic, although we need to distinguish between perceived and actual diversity. Perceived diversity is what audiences perceive—do the faces on their television and computer screens, or the accents on their radios, look and sound like the United Kingdom? Actual diversity is more about the workforce—are all people from all the many parts of the United Kingdom, and all its walks of life, able to compete for and win BBC jobs?

“Diversity” covers a great deal. People have many different identities, and it covers characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, disability, faith and age, and different backgrounds such as nations, regions, communities and socioeconomic classes. Our country is, thankfully, a varied, colourful, boisterous place, and the nation’s broadcaster needs to represent such diversity. That is so important that it is one of the BBC’s six public purposes:

“Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities”.

Why should we care about diversity, whether perceived or actual? The golden thread running through the BBC is that it provides something for everyone. That is not only a matter of simple British fairness and niceness; the BBC is paid for by everyone through the licence fee. The BBC provides something for everyone on TV, on the radio, online and in many other ways. It is the nation’s broadcaster, at the heart of our national life. That means that it should reflect the nation back to itself, and be open to talent, no matter what its source.

First, the national broadcaster should reflect the nation back to itself because people want to see stories and information about their lives and areas. They want to see people like them on the screens and to hear voices like theirs on the radio. That is not only about feeling that people like us are represented; it is about ensuring that all our lives are represented and that all our stories are told. Secondly, the BBC should be open to all the talents. The cultural and creative industries now account for about one in 11 jobs, and the proportion is growing. The sector is the fastest growing one in our entire economy. It has been improving its productivity, sucking in investment and selling British creativity, and Britain itself, to the world. Jobs are generally well paid and meaningful. Put simply, they are the jobs of the future, and we need routes into such jobs for all. It is about equal opportunity—people should not be held back by one of their characteristics or the fact of their background.

That is why diversity is important, and everyone in the cultural and creative industries gets that. So what is the problem? It seems to be that the BBC is still not in the right place on perceived or actual diversity. Unfortunately, people from historically marginalised groups still feel under-represented and negatively portrayed by public service broadcasting. That came out clearly in Ofcom research for its third review of PSB: 55% of people from black and minority ethnic groups felt under-represented and a similar proportion felt that they were negatively portrayed; half of LGBT people and half of disabled people felt under-represented; in the north of England, 20% of people said that they felt negatively portrayed; and the figure in Northern Ireland, I believe, was 26%.

The workforce is still unrepresentative. As Lenny Henry made clear, the creative industries—the BBC is no exception—still do not represent ethnic minorities. A Creative Skillset census showed that between 2006 and 2012, black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in the creative industries had declined by 30.9%, to 5.4%, the lowest figure since the body started taking the census. Much more therefore needs to be done to improve. Positive steps have been taken. The industry has established a measurement system for workforce and on-screen diversity. Thanks should go to the Creative Diversity Network, which will help to get accurate, up-to-date information on diversity, so that we can see exactly where we need to improve.

Honesty is the first step towards improvement. In 2003, 91% of BBC network spend was in London. Today, 53% of network spend is outside London. For the first time, the majority of BBC staff are based outside London, in the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent speech, which is a comprehensive overview of many aspects of diversity, including some that I could not touch on. On her last point, with regard to the BBC having so much of its spend and workforce outside London, which I applaud, there is also the difficulty of getting from Newcastle to Manchester, which is greater than getting from Newcastle to London. The move to Salford has to some extent pulled commissioning and opportunities away from the north-east.

I certainly empathise, and other regions might have other issues as well. I, too, would speak up about that as a Member from Wales, were I not speaking impartially.

Positive steps point the way to further improvement, but more remains to be done. During charter review, we will be calling on the BBC to live up to its role as the nation’s broadcaster and properly to represent our United Kingdom, which is a diverse country. People should be able to see their communities reflected back to them, and they should be able to compete for the jobs of the future. A big, bold BBC should be here to make that happen.

It is a great pleasure to appear under your chairmanship Mr Streeter, as always. I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) for calling this important debate, which has ranged far and wide. It started on the important topic of diversity and ended with the perhaps equally important topic of the future of the BBC.

I hope that hon. Members do not mind if I single out some of the chutzpah displayed in speeches this afternoon. I was amused, for example, by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), who talked, as though butter would not melt in his mouth, about the security that the BBC would feel were it transferred en bloc to the Scottish Government. The same Scottish National party made the political editor of the BBC feel so welcome during the referendum campaign that the BBC appointed a bouncer to look after him. In a recent interview, Nick Robinson described the attacks on him as

“an utterly calculated attempt to put pressure”

on him in

“the week before the referendum…a deliberate attempt to wrongfoot and unnerve, if not me, then my bosses in order to alter the coverage.”

I remind the Minister that the BBC felt so proud of its political editor that, immediately after his rather embarrassing performance with the former First Minister, he was sent to Northern Ireland. That is not normally where the BBC sends people during a referendum campaign if it thinks that they have covered it with glory. Furthermore, the Minister might recall that the political editor subsequently said that it was not his finest hour.

I recall. Nick Robinson has now obviously been brought back from the cold; I gather that he is to be a presenter on the “Today” programme, taking over from Jim Naughtie, another fine Scottish voice represented on the nation’s flagship programme. Mr Naughtie will be a sad loss, although he will carry on as a special correspondent.

If people had not been listening carefully to the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) they might have been under the impression that S4C funding had been cut by 93%. Of course, S4C remains one of the most generously funded broadcasters—not just in this country, but anywhere in the world. It does an outstanding job of promoting Welsh programming and the Welsh language. It is, of course, a great Conservative achievement: it was set up under Margaret Thatcher’s Government.

Finally on my theme of chutzpah, before a raft of interventions comes my way, I should mention the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who talked about how her party wants a big, bold BBC. She failed to remind us of how the last Labour Government drove from office not only the chairman of the BBC but its director-general, because of their objections to some BBC coverage. I am not sure I am going to take lessons from any of the parties on the Opposition Benches about the future of the BBC. No doubt when the Green Paper is published on Thursday, they will take the opportunity to make their points to the Secretary of State during his statement.

I return to the main theme of the debate, put forward so ably by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central: diversity in broadcasting and, in particular, class and regional representation. The BBC is an important player in that. It goes without saying that its increased representation in Salford in the north-west, for example, has made a material difference to regional representation. Its representation in Glasgow in Scotland is also important. Just three weeks ago we had an important debate in this Chamber in which lots of MPs from the west and east midlands called for greater BBC representation in the midlands—Birmingham, in particular. I hope our Green Paper will reflect those calls and provoke a debate.

On the issue of representation of people from different socioeconomic classes and regions, as well as black and minority ethnic people, people with disabilities and women—the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) ably raised the need for both disabled and female representation in broadcasting—I echo the words of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire: I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments put forward by all those who have spoken.

To pick up again on the themes put forward by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, the question is about fairness—that goes without saying—but there is also an economic and business case, which she was right to mention. For example, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief executive of Facebook, points out in her book that there is a need to pursue gender equality not just because it is fair but because the economic and business case for it is overwhelming. That case stacks up on whatever kind of representation one wishes to talk about.

To the points that the hon. Lady made so ably I would add that such representation is particularly pertinent to the media. The media reflect—or should reflect—the society in which we live, so it is important for all of us living in the UK that, when we turn on our television or listen to whatever media we choose, we feel that the media reflect the kind of society that we live in. The power of the media is not simply in reflecting our society; whenever we see significant under-representation in any profession, the media can be a powerful advocate. If someone sees themselves represented on screen not just as themselves but as a lawyer or teacher, or any other profession that springs to mind, that is incredibly important. That is why it is so important to focus on this issue.

I hope that in those remarks I have demonstrated my answer to the hon. Lady’s first question, about whether I shared her concern. I certainly do. Her second question was about whether I thought that socioeconomic and regional background were important factors to take into account—again, the answer is yes, I do. She asked me whether we can make more progress, so I will concentrate on some progress that we have made, albeit in perhaps a slightly narrower field than she covered in her speech.

We know that the position is not good whichever way we look at it. The proportion of people from BAME backgrounds working in film, television, radio, video and photography has not increased in recent years. People with disabilities are significantly under-represented. Women make up only a third of employees in the film and TV industry despite making up more than half the population. As the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton made clear, in flagship news programmes there are three male reporters for every female one. Employment in television and film has traditionally been low in the north of the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Over the past couple of years, I have concentrated on BAME diversity in particular. I am happy to say that I was spurred into action by campaigns such as those in which Lenny Henry—Sir Lenny Henry, now—was being significantly vocal. In that respect, we have made some progress. All the main broadcasters are now committed to significant and stretching targets to increase diversity in broadcasting.

For example, the BBC has said that at least 15% of people on air will be from BAME backgrounds within three years, and that it will double BAME representation at senior level. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central mentioned the other difficulty that we must not lose sight of: that although we might be good at recruiting talented people at the start of their careers, there is a massive falling off when people reach mid-management level. ITV published its proposals at the end of last year. Sky has announced what is probably the most ambitious target—to see one in five significant on-screen roles going to people from BAME backgrounds. Channel 4 set out its new diversity charter in January.

The British Film Institute has put in place a system to ensure diversity in all films it funds in future. I was pleased that we were able to work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Ofcom to look at specific guidelines on the Equality Act 2010. Broadcasters are understandably nervous and do not want inadvertently to breach the Act; we need to make absolutely clear the progress they can make without doing so.

The most significant development, which addresses the wider point about socioeconomic diversity, is the new work being undertaken by the Creative Diversity Network, an organisation funded by the broadcasters—Channel Five has recently rejoined it following its change in ownership. Previously it had a rotating chair and non-permanent staff. It now has a permanent chief executive, a permanent chair, in John McVay from the trade body Pact. It is launching a monitoring scheme called Project Diamond, which will be uniform across all the broadcasters. Although this might sound a long way away, it is a difficult and complex project to put in place and so we are hoping to see the first data from it early next year. At that point I hope we will have got to the stage where broadcasters have nowhere to hide. The figures may be bad or shocking, but my hope is that people will not see that as an excuse to turn on each other but as an opportunity to learn what the baseline is against which they need to make progress.

We should not stop at broadcasting. We also need to look at theatre, and indeed at the arts in a much wider sense. I hope that in all those areas we will get to a position of no longer having to think about these issues and seeing people in roles and jobs, on and off screen, regardless of their background. That is very important.

There are other issues. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central made clear in her speech, these are difficult professions to break into. Doing so is often based on networking or on whether someone can finance their early career by effectively working for free. I am pleased that, with Creative Skillset, an employer-led agency that works with Government, we have put together a programme involving some 400 different creative industries to put in place needs-blind apprenticeships that will support people, whatever their background. I think we are up to about 8,500 apprentices, 1,800 paid interns and 1,200 trainees. In terms of supporting the creative industries outside London and regional and socioeconomic diversity, the work of Creative England, which is effectively the screen agency outside London, is very important. It works in film, television and the video games industry.

Due to the success of the tax credit, much more extensive media clusters are developing, which I think will address some gaping holes. For example, in Northern Ireland, I think it is fair to say that “Game of Thrones”, which is now supported by the tax credit, has, in effect, created a very high-quality television cluster within Belfast and beyond. Screen Yorkshire is doing a fantastic job in attracting inward investment into Yorkshire. I have mentioned Salford, and we know that many Members of Parliament are also keen to see greater representation in Birmingham.

Finally, I take up the challenge that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central put to me: to get a casting director from London—I assume she means from London; if they were from Newcastle, it might be slightly pointless—to go to a northern state school. My challenge to her is to nominate the state school and the show. Touch wood, I will be free—and I will still be in this job—to go with the casting director and take them from the cosy metropolitan world they inhabit in central London to see some real acting talent, hopefully, in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

Thank you very much, Mr Streeter, for chairing what has been, as I think we can all agree, a very well informed and reasonable debate with a good deal of consensus—apart from when the question of the BBC’s charter renewal was touched on, which was not necessarily within the original remit of my debate.

I thank everybody for their contributions, including my hon. Friends, the Front Benchers and the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams). In this wide-ranging debate, there was a great deal of agreement on the importance of diversity, including, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) set out, to both sides of the House, as well as economically and in terms of fairness for a big, bold BBC.

I am pleased with the Minister’s response about the casting director, and I look forward to choosing the show. In general, I agree with much of what he said; I agree that there are many initiatives and that he has a focus on them. I would like, however, to see more of a focus on socioeconomic background; perhaps that can be his next area. Whereas I talked about fairness and the business need for diversity, he made a very good point in saying that the issue is about showing role models to all of us. All of us need role models, which can be significant in changing the opportunities and ambitions of people more generally.

I shall nevertheless send the Minister all my questions in a letter, because the questions about data and their collection were perhaps not covered fully. I also say to the broadcasting industry that the data can effectively be collected automatically, because there is voice and facial recognition, and in future there will be nowhere to hide. I suggest to the broadcasters that they share the data now, while they can have some control over how it is understood, before they are exposed by big data in relation to all the gaps within their diversity representation.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered diversity in public sector broadcasting.