Rod Liddle

How the BBC can achieve real diversity

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Exciting news from the BBC, where every employee has just received a flyer from the Director-General, Lord Hall, informing them about the creation of a new post — Director of Creative Diversity. Should they all apply? Certainly, when I found out about it, I thought I might throw my hat in the ring. I’d immediately employ some heterosexual weathermen and maybe a white presenter or reporter on the London regional news programmes — and then make Dominic Cummings the head of current affairs, if he has any spare time.

That would introduce a little diversity into New Broadcasting House, I think. I might also impel Radio 4 to ration the number of programmes in which women moan about stuff, suggesting that a more diverse approach would be to have cheerful women sprinkled around the output; and maybe even, on rare occasions, have a programme presented by a chap. I’d also remove that woman from The News Quiz, the one who never ever says anything funny but just responds to every question with a fatuous slice of Corbynista propaganda, leaving the audience in slightly embarrassed silence. I don’t know her name, but I think she’s gay — although very much not in the old meaning of the term.

There is so much one could do to improve the BBC and make it more creatively diverse. The corporation has made great strides over the past decade or so to improve both its gender balance and racial balance on screen, and last year Ofcom reported (in a review of peak output) that among younger presenters, women comprised 50 per cent of the total and that presenters or actors from black backgrounds now exceeded, in percentage terms, that of the general population — indeed, was close to double that of the general population.

So the BBC’s diversity in these necks of the woods seems to be on track. The need for a Director of Creative Diversity must therefore have come about as a consequence of a justifiable worry that the BBC was somehow failing to represent diversity of opinion within its output, I thought to myself. The liberal echo chamber in which these people exist, which has been revealed by countless reports as well as in the baleful comments from departing staffers such as John Humphrys, Michael Buerk, John Sergeant, Robin Aitken and so on, is at last being challenged! I must spruce up my CV and get my application in.

But alas no. The Director of Creative Diversity has already been appointed. This was not a job open to either members of the public or BBC workers — it was simply an appointment: no shortlist of candidates, no other candidates at all, so far as I can tell*. Just an agreeable chat with one person, perhaps over a cup of coffee and a plate of those biscuits you always find at the BBC but never see sold in shops — sort of organic Abernathy which you can dunk in your coffee as long as you like but they never soften. Ah well. But perhaps this appointee will be well equipped to counter the numbing lack of diversity of opinion within the BBC, especially upon that most pressing of issues, Brexit? Without question. The first Director of Creative Diversity for the BBC is June Sarpong, who you may remember from children’s television programmes some time ago. She has since become a left-wing activist and a kinda journalist and — get this — was on the board of the campaigning organisation ‘Britain Better In Europe’. Yep, June’s really going to shake them up.

You wonder how the BBC can be so impervious to criticism of its evident bias, its relentless, emetic, right-on wokefulness, given that the question of its licence fee and charter hangs ever more precariously in the balance. Every report into the BBC’s stance on Euroscepticism, be it the independent Taylor Report or the Institute for Economic Affairs study from 2017, concluded that it was biased in favour of the Remainer cause. And yet each time the BBC brushes the complaints aside.

How does one begin to explain its insouciance, its aloofness from these charges? The only answer I can see is that so unanimous is the weight of opinion within the BBC that it is impartial that there must be something errant and amiss, or simply politically motivated, in the attacks which pour down upon the corporation. And that, following from this, perhaps it has taken the novelist Ian McEwan’s view that the time has long since passed to stop pretending that the two sides to the Brexit debate are equally valid and that quite plainly Remain is in the right. But I do wish sometimes the BBC bosses would read the comments left by readers (and therefore, whether they like it or not, licence-fee payers) below the line on newspaper articles dealing with the BBC’s bias. They are almost always 80 per cent hostile to the corporation, regardless of what newspaper the story is published in. The BBC is somehow losing touch with the public which pays for its existence.

Some previous DGs have attempted, with some success, to grapple with the BBC’s culture. Sir John Birt recognised that the corporation had simply failed to understand the appeal of Margaret Thatcher to an enormous swath of the electorate. He instilled a certain rigour into the BBC’s reporting and tried to banish the easy assumptions made by the corporation’s journos. Greg Dyke — not in the same league as Birt as a DG overall — transformed the BBC’s business coverage so that commerce was not always seen as a lamentable motor of capitalism, to be held in perpetual suspicion. Lord Hall needs to grasp that the BBC’s increasing identification with the mores and values of the small but voluble liberal elite is losing it popular support in the country. Because if June Sarpong is the answer, Lord Hall is clearly asking the wrong question.

PS The BBC says the job was advertised on its website, location 'flexible, with travel to London'. Damn. I missed my chance