Monday, 26 Oct 2020

BBC’s head of diversity admits it is failing to connect with white working class audiences

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June Sarpong made the admission as she spoke candidly about the lack of ethnic diversity within the Beeb during a virtual Ofcom summit. The TV presenter was last year appointed the BBC’s first Director of Creative Diversity.

She vowed to improve representation of white working class Britons and said she would not focus solely on black and Asian people.

Miss Sarpong said the corporation must step up its efforts to reach out to the working class, drawing on her own experience growing up in an east London predominantly white neighbourhood.

She said: “Often the BAME audience gets a lot of focus, in that the BBC doesn’t represent BAME audiences enough, and we talk about young people.

“But we know that we’ve had serious issues in terms of our connection with C2DE [working class] audiences and I think it’s about getting the balance.

“As somebody who is an advocate for diversity, I’m always making sure I’m banging the drum for working class audiences because I come from a working class background.

“My parents were immigrants, we grew up in a white, working class community.

“And I totally understand when it comes to immigration, that is the community that has actually lived it, and often we don’t have the sort of nuanced debate around this stuff that we need to.”

The 43-year-old heaped praise on the BBC’s new director-general Tim Davie for being vocal about the need to improve diversity in the corporation.

Miss Sarpong spoke about being the only black person on the executive board.

Referring to a board meeting, she said: “I’m the only one in the room.

“Nothing new there.”

She warned the BBC’s survival in this age depends on its diversity.

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She said diversity is an important topic for young audiences and the BBC would need to focus on its representation of people from a vast array of backgrounds.

Her speech on diversity comes as Mr Davie steps up efforts to improve the Beeb’s impartiality.

He said he would be prepared to fire presenters who breach new rules on social media.

Mr Davie, who became the director-general this month, is taking a tough line on impartiality in the wake of criticism about stars’ behaviour.

Gary Lineker has caused controversy in the past for sharing his political views on Twitter.

Speaking to MPs on the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Mr Davie said: “I am prepared to take the appropriate disciplinary action, all the way to termination.”

He added that he would also be able “to take people off Twitter” if necessary.

He said: “Enforcement actions will be very clear, we will be able to take disciplinary action, we’ll be able to take people off Twitter.

“I know people want to see hard action on this.”

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