June Sarpong (pictured in March in London’s Southbank Centre) said her work to reach under-represented groups would extend beyond black and Asian people to encompass people of all races who are economically disadvantaged
The BBC has failed to connect with white working class audiences and must do more to make them feel represented, according to its head of diversity.
June Sarpong said her work to reach under-represented groups would extend beyond black and Asian people to include working class communities and their concerns, including immigration.
The presenter made the remarks at a virtual Ofcom summit where she also spoke about being the only black person in the room at BBC conference meetings.
She said: ‘Often the BAME audience gets a lot of focus, in that the BBC doesn’t represent BAME audiences enough, and we talk about young people.
‘But we know that we’ve had serious issues in terms of our connection with C2DE [working class] audiences and I think it’s about getting the balance.
‘As somebody who is an advocate for diversity, I’m always making sure I’m banging the drum for working class audiences because I come from a working class background, my parents were immigrants, we grew up in a white, working class community.
‘And I totally understand when it comes to immigration, that is the community that has actually lived it, and often we don’t have the sort of nuanced debate around this stuff that we need to.’
Miss Sarpong praised new director-general Tim Davie for speaking out about the need to improve diversity at the BBC .
She said: ‘Our ethos is about being for all of us and that means you have to balance opposing views and groups that perhaps don’t see eye to eye.
‘What Tim is doing is ensuring that we don’t ignore any part of our audience.’
But speaking to Ofcom’s Small Screen: Big Debate virtual conference, she said the broadcaster’s survival depends on doing more.
‘Now the audience themselves are very vocal, and not just of the BBC or of broadcasters but of any institution and company in general,’ she said.
‘We understand that it’s absolutely vital for our success and our survival. It’s no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.’
Miss Sarpong was asked whether media portrayals of Mr Davie – as someone who reversed the decision not to air the lyrics for traditional anthems on Last Night of the Proms – was a threat to diversity.
She denied this and said the BBC ‘ethos’ was ‘about being for all of us’.
She added: ‘In a way our survival is also in the balance and this is a key part of ensuring we are here for another 100 years.’
The diversity tsar also told the conference how she is the only black person in the room at executive meetings.
The BBC executive, who is paid £75,000 a year for her three day a week role, is the only black person on an executive committee of 11 people.
Asked what she saw around table in her role, she said: ‘I see what has been the story of my life, in terms of my career…I am the only one in the room. Nothing new there.
‘But the difference was we weren’t even in the room before, so at least there’s someone in the room.’
She pointed to the fact that new BBC rules mean there are at least two people from diverse backgrounds on every decision-making body.
While she is the only black executive on the executive committee, another of its members Gautam Rangarajan is also understood to be from an ethnically diverse background.
The presenter made the remarks at a virtual Ofcom summit where she also spoke about being the only black person in the room at BBC conference meetings. Pictured: Broadcasting House
Miss Sarpong has previously admitted the corporation is ‘nowhere near’ hitting its own diversity targets and says it will ‘take longer than we hoped’ to reach them.
Speaking in August, she said the BBC is diverse at ‘entry level’ but ‘not enough in terms of mid-level and senior leadership’.
She added that examples need to be seen of progression from people from ‘all backgrounds and all walks of life’.
It followed the BBC’s announcement that it was £100million of its TV budget into increasing diversity over three years, starting from April 2021.
Comparing the BBC’s target to that of the UK’s BAME working population, which is 12 per cent, she told Radio 4’s Media Show: ‘So in terms of leadership for BAME, 15 per cent is the target.
‘It will take us longer than we would have hoped to reach it and to get there, but I think it’s important.
‘It’s important for so many reasons. When you look at some of the problems not just the BBC has had, but I think broadcasters in general have had, a lot of that has to do with leadership.
‘Also, if we want to send the right message to the rest of the organisation in terms of talent that are coming through it, they need to be able to see examples of progression from people from all backgrounds and all walks of life.’
BBC is driving away viewers by being too London-centric and not diverse enough, admits new chief Tim Davie
In a frank talk last month, new BBC director-general Tim Davie said some parts of the country ‘don’t necessarily feel the broadcaster is for them’
By Paul Revoir for the Daily Mail and Amie Gordon for MailOnline
Tim Davie has admitted the lack of diversity at the BBC has left it too London-centric and resulted in viewers feeling unrepresented.
Mr Davie said that if bosses at the broadcaster did not deliver on diversity levels they will not progress.
And when asked if there were ‘underserved’ audiences, he replied: ‘Absolutely. But the BBC doesn’t deliver equally to everyone.
‘There are audiences in a diverse Britain that feel a little bit further away from us.’
‘I do think there’s something about metropolitan-based organisations, or the way you hire, than can somewhat feel a bit distant from some of the population.’
He added there were ‘certain bits of the country’, not just because of age, ‘that don’t necessarily feel the BBC is for them’.
In a frank discussion at the Royal Television Society last month, Mr Davie also discussed other issues facing the corporation.
He said it should ‘renew our vows’ on impartiality, prioritising its ‘bigger purpose’ and avoiding chasing Twitter followers by being ‘outrageous.’
It came as Mr Davie admitted stripping millions of over-75s of their free TV licences is ‘not a great look’ for the corporation.
Mr Davie defended the decision to make more than three million households pay the £157.50 charge, as Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday accused the corporation of ‘stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners’ night-time drink’.