Lenny Henry campaign: back TV diversity or we'll boycott licence fee

Lenny Henry calls for action on the TV Collective website Supporters of a campaign launched by comedian and actor Lenny Henryto change t...

Lenny Henry calls for action on the TV Collective website
Supporters of a campaign launched by comedian and actor Lenny Henryto change the law to boost the number of black, Asian and minority workers in the television industry say they will consider boycotting the licence fee if the government fails to take action.
Henry has launched a petition and email campaign aiming to lobby culture minister Ed Vaizey about changing the law.
Campaigners say that if nothing is done by broadcasters and the government and "diversity continues to be a talking shop" they will consider boycotting the licence fee.
In a "call to action" appeal video made to kick off the petition, Henry urges people to sign an email addressed to Vaizey which supports "Lenny Henry's plan for UK TV channels to have ring fenced money for BAME [black and minority ethnic] productions and programmes as they do for the nations and regions".
The comedian and actor also asks the minister: "Can you please tell me if you support this idea with regards to the BBC and other UK channels, and what else you are doing to make sure more black, Asian and ethnic minorities are employed in the media?"
The video also features comments that have been made to people who have faced discrimination working in the media. They include "wow, I didn't expect you to speak so well", "you're not the right profile to go out on a shoot" and "you're not right for the lead but it'd be good to keep you in for colour".
Voiced by actors to avoid repercussions, a comment from one man was "no, I can't sit in my cab and wait for Moira Stuart to come out, I work here", after it was assumed that because he was BAME, he was a taxi driver.
Henry urges people to back the campaign, saying: "All you have to do is sign, press send and, boom, Ed Vaizey's like, 'Oh no, I can't see my desk'."
His video appears on the TV Collective website – which has about 60,000 members and is helping lead the campaign – along with a statement from Simone Pennant, a casting and development producer who founded the organisation.
Pennant's statement says: "As much as I am optimistic that Lenny's plan can instigate some real change, I'm also conscious that we've had similar moments many many many times before. So if the issue of diversity continues to be a talking shop, I for one will be seriously considering whether I will be renewing my TV licence. Will you be joining me?"
If the meetings Henry and campaigners have scheduled with the BBC and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport over the next couple of months lead to nothing, Pennant told the Guardian then "maybe our next step is to ask if the licence fee is value for money and not pay the licence fee".
"We are not encouraging people to engage in criminal activity. But if we are not getting value for money then will have to consider why we are paying for it."
She said that the campaign will "give it to July or August" to see if structural changes to the broadcasting industry are going to happen but, "if not then we will have to consider our position and say it seems this issue is not being resolved – maybe our next step is to ask if the licence fee is value for money and not pay the licence fee".
Henry's proposal calls for BAME people to be treated as a "metaphorical region" – pointing out that Scotland makes up about 9% of the population, compared with BAME's 14.5% – with ring-fenced money and a commissioner and executives located perhaps in Birmingham or Manchester.
His roadmap, dubbed the Henry plan, was outlined last month in a speech where he called for action after revealing the situation has "deteriorated badly" with the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic people working in the UK television industry falling by 30.9% between 2006 and 2012.
Samir Shah, former BBC non-executive director and chief executive of independent production company Juniper, said it was "time to make a decisive intervention".
Shah pointed out that it is "happening elsewhere … Metropolitan police chief commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has recently called for a change in the law to allow the Met to take on one ethnic minority officer for every white recruit".
He warned Henry's proposal can "expect trenchant criticism" from some within the industry who support the plan but fear "tokenism" or that "by identifying an amount of money as ring-fenced for BAME applicants, it absolves the others from any responsibility".
However, he said critics should look at the success of the BBC's plan to increase the number of programmes from the nations and regions through structural change: "The lessons of that success can be applied to address some of those fears."


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