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BBC commits $124m to diversity

The BBC has committed £100m (US$124m) of its content spend to diverse productions and talent in the first of what it calls “bold steps to transform its programming and better represent the public it serves.”

June Sarpong

The BBC’s Creative Diversity Commitment – said to be the biggest financial investment to on-air inclusion in the industry – will prioritise £100m of the UK pubcaster’s existing commissioning budget over three years from 2021 towards diverse and inclusive content.

This will be supported by a new mandatory 20% diverse-talent target in all new network commissions from April 2021. The BBC’s commissioning specification, which sets out the criteria for content production, will be updated this summer to encourage earlier action, the pubcaster said.

It comes as the BBC admits it and the media industry is “not changing fast enough” to increase diversity and inclusion both on- and off-air.

The BBC will report on progress in its annual report and the investment will cover TV output across all genres, including children’s, education and current affairs.

It will support the BBC’s Diversity Code of Practice and commits the BBC to create content with at least two out of three priorities: diverse stories and portrayal on-screen; diverse production teams and talent; and diverse-led production companies.

BBC director-general Tony Hall said: “The senseless killing of George Floyd – and what it tells us about the stain of systemic racism – has had a profound impact on all of us. It’s made us question ourselves about what more we can do to help tackle racism, and drive inclusion within our organisation and in society as a whole.

“This is our response. It’s going to drive change in what we make and who makes it. It’s a big leap forward and we’ll have more to announce in the coming weeks.”

June Sarpong, director of creative diversity, added: “I came to the BBC as an outsider. Before joining I had an idea of this being an organisation that did not want to change. What I found was something different: an organisation that had ambitious goals for diversity and inclusion but didn’t know how to reach them.

“This commitment will help to drive real change that will be felt by all audiences. It will also create a strong framework to help diverse storytellers succeed at all levels of the industry.

“As director of creative diversity, I’m pleased that we’re announcing this fund as the first of a series of bold steps that will help make the BBC an instrument of real change. As a black woman, I feel and share in the pain that so many are feeling worldwide. It makes it all the more important that we show up now not just with words but with meaningful action.”

Sarpong joined the BBC as director of creative diversity in November last year, having previously sat on its diversity and inclusion advisory group.

Charlotte Moore, director of content, said: “When I met [director] Steve McQueen last year during the making of Small Axe, he challenged me and the BBC to set meaningful targets and take proper action. He was right. Today’s announcement represents a truly transformational commitment to both on and off screen representation. Concrete, tangible action is the only way we can bring about real sustainable change.”

The BBC has also committed to:

  • Running regular meet-and-greets across the country, to enable talent from traditionally under-represented minority groups to engage with BBC staff and external suppliers who shape the organisation’s creative output.
  • Developing a comprehensive diverse digital database for the industry, and an accelerator programme for on-screen and off-screen diverse talent.
  • Working with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative on the Belonging Blueprint, a project aimed at establishing new practices to create wider access to entertainment industry jobs for traditionally marginalised individuals.
  • Continuing to prioritise investing and developing diverse leaders at the BBC. By the end of 2020, its aim is to have every BBC board or senior leadership group with at least two members from a BAME (black, Asian and other ethnic minority) background.

This year, the BBC appointed six new assistant commissioners through its Content Commissioner Development Programme. This training and development scheme offers TV professionals with a disability or who are from BAME backgrounds the opportunity to develop their commissioning skills, and is now running for the third time.

The creative diversity unit, led by Sarpong, will publish a new strategy over the summer.

The strategy will support the Belonging Blueprint and the inclusion toolkit, a set of guidance and tools to help the BBC’s creative staff and industry partners ensure diversity and inclusion is at the heart of production

Later this year, the BBC will also publish a detailed Diversity Commissioning Code of Practice report at the same time as the annual report and accounts.

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