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Black to Front: Is media representation enough?

By Priya Radia

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On Saturday 10th September, Channel 4 broadcasted it’s ‘Black to Front’ project: a day to promote and improve Black representation both on and off screen. It’s 24 hr schedule featured a mix of new and existing programmes, created and delivered by Black presenters, actors, writers and experts, contributors, and programme-makers. Online audience reception of the project has varied; some have been impressed by the active effort and commitment and others have questioned the impermanence of the initiative.  

The Creative Diversity Network’s 2020 survey found that only 1.6% of TV writers in the UK identified as Black, and that overall off-screen contributions from BAME groups has also decreased in the last year. This has been a critical issue for many years now and needs attention. Having just one initiative could be very problematic – it’s tokenistic and leans more towards ticking diversity boxes than fair representation and inclusion. Channel 4 have however, explained in their campaign communications that this forms just one part of a much wider diversity initiative to “leave a lasting legacy”. The campaign itself also covers a range of on and off-screen talent, as well as research that points towards more targeted interventions such as family sitcoms. Following the broadcast, many viewers on Twitter expressed how hopeful a campaign like this makes them feel and the issue of underrepresentation has also received more media attention. It’s an excellent start, and a step in the right direction as part of the diversity and inclusion journey.  

So how can it be ensured that Black to Front isn’t just a one-off event and doesn’t disappear from both broadcasters and audiences minds a few days later? One option would be to make this a recurring, “little & often” campaign. By intentionally creating space for Black voices – regularly – this would support the message that equal and fair representation needs to be the new norm. This should be backed by practical change throughout the organisation to move towards inclusive behaviours and practices that will then naturally lead to consistently equal opportunities for Black talent.  For example: 

  • Ensuring that this is not seen as a “separate” problem just for marginalised groups to tackle, but one that everyone in the industry needs to play an active role in 
  • Ensuring that leaders from all backgrounds are trained on inclusion & allyship 
  • Reviewing and debiasing recruitment processes and systems to ensure that Black talent is fairly assessed on an ongoing basis 
  • Sufficient support routes in place to not just attract – but also sustain Black talent and ensure they have an equal opportunity to progress throughout their careers in broadcasting 
  • Included has worked with Kudos, a British film and production company, to effect behaviour change. Find out how this worked in practice.  

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