Why BSkyB Wants More Minorities on Air

Stuart Murphy, director of entertainment channels at BSkyB
Stuart Murphy, director of entertainment channels at BSkyB
 Courtesy of BSkyB

British pay-TV giant BSkyB has joined public broadcaster the BBC in introducing a quota to increase ethnic diversity on-air.

The broadcaster, which is partly controlled by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, has pledged that by the end of next year, at least 20 percent of the on-air talent and behind-the-scenes writers of its UK shows will come from a black, Asian or other ethnic minority background.

BSkyB is one of Europe's largest producers of programming. It spends more than $1 billion (£600 million) a year on original UK commissions including comedies such as Moone Boy starring Chris O'Dowd, the drama series Stella and numerous reality and lifestyle shows.

BSkyB said the new initiative will apply to all new shows it commissions for its entertainment channels: Sky1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living and Sky Arts but will not apply to Sky News, its 24-hour news network.

The push for more on-air diversity follows a similar announcement by public broadcaster the BBC, which said it would ensure ethnic minorities make up 15 percent of on-air talent over the next three years. According to BSkyB, its 20 percent quota target far exceeds the percentage of the UK population that is non-white, which it said numbers around 14 percent. Stuart Murphy, director of Sky's entertainment channel portfolio, called the 20 percent quota “non-negotiable” and said it would have an immediate impact on between 80 and 100 programs set to go into production across BSkyB's networks.

British broadcasters have been under fire in the media for their supposed lack of on-air diversity. British actor and comedian Lenny Henry, one of the first black entertainers to achieve mainstream success on UK TV, has lambasted the local industry for what he calls its “appalling” lack of black and Asian talent.

Henry noted several British actors from black or Asian ethnic backgrounds, such as 12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor, Archie Panjabi of The Good Wife and Idris Elba of The Wire, had to leave Britain to achieve success.

"Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba didn't need more training, they just needed a break," he recently told a select committee of British politicians investigating the supposed lack of ethnic diversity on UK television.

BSkyB said for new commissioned shows, at least 20 percent of “significant” on-screen roles will go to actors from an ethnic minority background. The same quota will apply to the writing teams behind shows. As well at least one senior production role on each new commission must be taken by an executive form an ethnic minority background, BSkyB said. The broadcaster, however, said it will not apply the quota to existing shows already on air.

Some of have criticized the new quotas. Philip Davies, a conservative member of the British parliament and member of the select committee on culture, media and sport, branded the BBC's diversity plans as “racist” for allegedly ignoring Britain's white working class.

Twitter: @sroxborough

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