Diversity in Focus at U.K. TV Convention

Courtesy of BSkyB
Sky head of drama Anne Mensah

A panel at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge convention discusses the topic: "A World of Opportunity — For All?"

Diversity in the British TV industry and the importance of working with the best talent on- and off-screen was in focus Friday at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge convention. 

A panel of industry veterans discussed the topic "A World of Opportunity — For All?", including the progress that has been made on diversity, as well as issues such as class, social mobility and the under-representation of some viewpoints.

The panelists were James Purnell, director of radio and education at the BBC; Sky head of drama Anne Mensah; former BBC director general Greg Dyke; actress Julie Hesmondhalgh (Happy Valley, Broadchurch, Coronation Street); and Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator.

"There is a commercial imperative around reflecting the whole country," Mensah said about diversity. "There is an authenticity argument."

She continued: "On a basic level, diversity means a diverse number of stories. [If] when you turn the television on and click through and can't find anything, it is because we are not telling enough stories in enough places."

How can industry executive contribute to more diversity? "It's our personal responsibility," she said. "You have to make sure that how you define good isn't codified by traditional experiences. Good is not just going to Oxford or Cambridge, although it includes going to Oxford or Cambridge. … It might be knowing manga comics. It's making sure that when we approach new entrants, we are looking for their ability."

In her Cambridge convention appearance Thursday, Sharon White, the CEO of U.K. media regulator Ofcom, had lamented the "shocking, woeful, choose your adjective" underrepresentation of women and minorities, especially in senior positions, in the TV industry.

She discussed results of an Ofcom study that found that while women make up 51 percent of the general population in the U.K., only 39 percent of senior managers at the five major TV network operators, namely the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Channel 5 owner Viacom, were women. They also underperformed in terms of representing minorities and disabled people.

U.K. culture secretary Karen Bradley in her Cambridge convention appearance also highlighted the benefits of diversity in a globalized business, saying: "Diversity at home — and drawing on everybody's talents — is essential if we are to make the most of global opportunities."