Last week, the key people responsible for making UK television programmes gathered for the biennial Royal Television Society Cambridge convention, aimed at tackling the main issues facing the industry.
What emerged from the gathering rammed home that as long as public subsidy drives and feeds the industry, those managing it seem less concerned with entertaining and informing audiences than with meeting – with obsessive zeal – targets linked to social engineering.
Those addressing the £1,500-a-head delegates in the rarefied elegance of King’s College included the chief executive of Sky, James Murdoch, the culture secretary, Karen Bradley, the new BBC chairman, Sir David Clementi, and the chief executive of Ofcom, Sharon White.
The main topic of this stellar line-up? Perhaps the increasingly serious skew against Brexit on television news programmes? Or why Britons should continue to be forced to pay £147 a year through the BBC licence fee for programmes they don’t want? Or why the BBC is on a hell-for-leather mission in almost every element of its output to undermine British values and culture and to push a Left-wing perspective?
No. The main preoccupation and source of worry of Messrs White, Clementi and Bradley was – maybe you’ve guessed it already – diversity.
Never mind better programmes; each of them, with a manner reminiscent of medieval penitents, told the gathering that they and the industry must do better and continue to work flat out out to ensure that there are more ethnic minority faces on our screens and in the workforces of production companies.
No matter that in the 16 years since former BBC Director General Greg Dyke described the Corporation as ‘hideously white’, enormous efforts have been made to recruit and reflect ethnic minorities, and the diversity monitoring initiative Project Diamond has been set up – the framework for achieving change would make the Stasi’s recording techniques look modest. It emerged with a vengeance that the changes are not considered to be enough.
Leading the charge was Ofcom’s Sharon White. Ofcom, of course, under the new BBC Charter, now regulates aspects of the Corporation. In an interview with the BBC Newsnight interviewer Kirsty Wark (who else?), Ms White outlined her pride that under her regulatory watch, a new industry-wide intensified regime of form-filling, box-ticking quotas is now being rigorously implemented.
Especially in her sights in this respect, however, it emerged, is her new charge, the BBC. Not content that, according to BBC management board member Baroness Grey-Thompson, the Corporation must, if necessary, spend up to £100million on meeting diversity targets, Ms White noted censoriously that recent figures in the domain were rigged because they included the BBC World Service. That, she said, would definitely not do (or count), because lots of ethnically diverse people already worked there. Must try harder. Much harder.
Ms White also revealed that no matter what is achieved with ethnic, gender and disabled diversity, another issue was troubling her and was now in her sights. Class, of course. Straight from what sounded like the Corbyn and McDonnell text book on class war, she told Ms Wark, in effect, that far too few working-class people were currently employed across the industry, and that this, too, must be remedied. She was not yet sure how, but was working on it as part of her drive towards ‘transparency’.
Be very afraid. It turns out that the BBC – always keen to spend public money on such causes – has, in fact, pre-empted her. BBC Director of Radio James Purnell, the former Labour Cabinet minister who was privately educated and is an Oxford graduate, said at the convention that, in an effort to reduce numbers of ‘privileged’ employees, the Corporation was already experimenting with ‘anonymised’ recruitment, which involved redacting from job applications names, places of education and home addresses.
He is reported to have said he would ‘love’ to introduce, as another part of this process, new social class targets to combat the BBC’s ‘tendency towards hiring privileged people’. The problem, he claimed, was that almost 25 per cent of managers went to private schools, compared with only 7 per cent in the UK population.
‘We don’t have targets on socio-economic [backgrounds] but we’re thinking about it . . . We would love to have a target, we would be very happy to do that,’ he told the Daily Mail.
Another who addressed the conference, as an after-dinner speaker, was Tony Blair’s henchman-in-chief, Alastair Campbell. Surprise, surprise, they did not invite Nigel Farage. It is said that Mr Campbell had been warned ‘not to bang on’ about Brexit. But, according to reports, he disobeyed.
Under the splendid hammer-beamed ceiling of the King’s dining hall, he asked the delegates how many supported Brexit, and invited a show of hands. There was none.
That perhaps says it all about the state of the television industry. Out of touch with audiences, unconcerned about and uncomprehending of its deep bias against Brexit, and focused on ethnic and class diversity rather than programme quality and appeal.