Why black creative workers are shifting towards being bored of the diversity debate

Riaz Meer, a member of broadcast union BECTU's Black Members Committee, challenges Channel 4 and the ad industry to take meaningful action to combat institutional racism.

Riaz Meer, BECTU Black Members Committee member
Riaz Meer, BECTU Black Members Committee member

The recent spat between two white middle-aged male business leaders of the creative and cultural industries illuminates quite well the problems faced by those of us seeking change in the industry.

[M&C Saatchi’s group chief creative officer] Justin Tindall’s facile comment on diversity, and [Channel 4 chief marketing and communications officer] Dan Brooke’s critical response appears to place both men on different sides of the diversity debate.  But there is surely much more to Tindall’s being "bored with diversity" comment, than merely that of a lost business opportunity, as claimed by Brooke.

The problem for Brooke is that despite his claim that Channel 4 is "one of the very best companies for diversity in the land", the situation for BAME workers in his industry remains at crisis point. As Ofcom and the Office of National Statistics have shown, the percentage of BAME workers who make up the freelance crews producing television in the UK is a pitiful 4%.  

As a publisher broadcaster, Channel 4 does not make its own programmes but outsources this to independent production companies who in turn hire freelance crew. The record of staffing at Horseferry Road might be excellent, but Brooke closes his eyes once the programmes are commissioned. For all his grand claims about the company’s diversity, the fact remains that the people making programmes for Channel 4 are hideously white.

It is in this context that Tindall’s cry of being "bored with diversity" carries with it, however inadvertently, some resonance with black workers. Despite the well-meaning schemes and pronouncements, the fact is that the lot of black freelance workers in the cultural industries is as precarious as ever.  

Black freelance workers see diversity initiatives come and go, but at the same time we witness our prospects in the cultural industries diminish still further.  We might not go so far as to claim to be "bored" by the diversity debate, but we are by now suspicious of any scheme that does not address the structural problems that bar BAME and other marginalised groups from the workforce.

Indeed, given our own experiences, it is quite possible for us to be wary of industry claims about a commitment to diversity, whilst at the same time continuing our struggle to overturn the institutional racism prevalent in both advertising and broadcasting.  When will the "diversity debate" be over?  When industry leaders like Tindall and Brooke join with BAME workers (and others) in introducing effective change.