By: Twitter Buttons

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Pat Younge on diversity in the television industry

On Monday, I attended an evening with Patrick Younge hosted by presenter and journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy. Pat has recently been appointed as the Chief Creative Officer of BBC Vision, making him the most highly placed figure from a minority background in the television industry. This event was also the launch of the British Black and Asian Programme Maker's Collective, aka The TV Collective. Their aim is to provide a network where people can debate, showcase ideas, support and brainstorm ways of tackling the issue of diversity in television and the event on Monday was a sign of great things to come. With growing support from the industry including former MP Oona King, who is now Head of Diversity at Channel 4, I guess now is the time for action.

Pat has had a long career working in television and most recently headed up The Travel Channel in the United States. In his new role at the BBC, he will be responsible for comedy, drama, entertainment and children, with shows including Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who, Top Gear and EastEnders in his control. At last year's Edinburgh Television Festival, he famously remarked that diversity targets should be like financial targets and if people failed to hit them, then they should be fired. With this strong desire to make the industry less white and middle class, it will be interesting to see if there are any visible changes both at the BBC and in television in general over the next few years.

Here are the key points/learnings I gained from the evening:

Diversity is not only limited to race, although it is often the first thing that comes to mind. The television industry needs to be more inclusive in terms of gender, culture, age, disabilities and probably most importantly class. The industry is still regarded as one full of Cambridge and Oxford types, who have the insider information, knowledge of the unwritten rules and industry contacts that people from working class communities, (white working class included) do not have. This is a major barrier that needs to be challenged.

There has been progress over the years in regards to the people we actually see on our screens; actors, actresses, newsreaders, presenters and television personalities in general - although it might not be as much as we would like, we have definitely seen a wider representation of people looking back at us than ten years ago. However, it's behind the camera that the major problem lies. Behind the camera is where the power and the decision making is and if there is a narrow range of views, opinions and perspectives there, then that will be reflected on the television channels. Pat highlighted ITV for not having any commissioners from ethnic backgrounds and that this is evident in their programming. Therefore, here is where action is urgently needed. Training schemes that nurture talent, give people the opportunity to get their foot in the door and also develop their skills along their career path is a key way ensuring that in the future, executives at the top of the television industry are more representative of the audiences they serve.

Pat gave a useful piece of advice for people aspiring to work in television: know what you are good at. Not everyone is good at presenting or directing or producing or developing creatives. Pat's skill is managing and nurturing talent. Work out what your skill is and hone it to ensure that your not a jack of all trades and master of none. You'll probably progress in your career much faster. Also, it's important to know that there are so many different areas of television that you can get involved in, its not only about producing programmes. Marketing, publicity, finance, legal, talent management - do some research and find a path that suits you.

My personal concern is that in this strive for diversity, it may be all a bit too easy for it to turn into a numbers game. That is often the problem when targets are introduced. I am all for good talent rising to the top and diversity policies should be implemented to ensure that people have the OPPORTUNITY to gain skills and experience that they would not normally have access to. This way, the idea that "the cream of the crop will rise to the top" is one that still stands. However, if in order to meet targets, production companies and television channels just employ to fulfil a quota, then nothing will have really changed.

I also really do hope that this renewed drive is not another soapbox where we highlight the issues but nothing gets done. Remember that there is power in numbers and it is important to not expect too much from Pat's new position - he is only one man who has a range of responsibilities at the BBC, diversity only being one of them. It is up to us to continue to put pressure on the industry and transform all this talk into change. To get involved in The TV Collective, find out about training schemes, jobs and to network visit their facebook group.

What are your thoughts? What are your experiences within the television industry? What would you advise The Collective to do, what would you like to see from them? Speak on it and lets get this ball rolling!


  1. I agree that TV along with most areas of the media needs to get into the 21st century and be more reflective of the UK. This means that more Black people need to be given the opportunity to be able to get their feet in the door. However once they are there they need to keep that door wide open. Some of them seem more than happy to keep it shut. More importantly, people from all backgrounds need to network more and not just because they have to, they should want to network, meet new people and gain valuable contacts. TV bosses are not going to find you sitting in your living room. Opportunity cannot just find you - you need to find it too.

  2. I met him when we both worked at Discovery. He came across as short, grumpy and to-the-point . . . but I learned a valuable lesson from our meet up. You need confidence to survive in tv, because people can be tough. It will be interesting to see what he does in this new position. I use to aspire to work at Travel Channel but after I realized their programs would never not be aimed at the 45+ affluent audience, I lost that momentum.



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