Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Cultural Diversity Advisory Group to the Media


  The declared Government policy, further outlined in your above consultation paper on the creation of plurality and diversity, falls greatly in line with the aims and objects of our group. We have for many years voiced our feelings, regrettably to no avail, that the fast growing parallel cultures as well as double standards, largely promoted by the media, is not compatible with a democratic multicultural society.

  We hereby reiterate our views on the broad principles of your proposals as follows:

  Firstly we applaud and support Her Majesty's Government's wish to legislate, regulate and monitor the communication industry. Raising public awareness and expectation ought to be a media requirement. Lack of clarity for the ordinary lay person, in our view, unwittingly creates suspicions of autocracy. The past record of numerous broken promises has, quite understandably, created distrust for that "trade". There is a massive task of restoration. We believe that your proposals might assist.

  Cultural Diversity in media portrayal, has so far received neither genuine government focus nor the attention of the powerful public or private media. We acknowledge, progress has been made in some areas; it has not been enough, though, on the whole, it has not proceeded beyond action plans, policies or the ever-fashionable rhetoric. In some areas of the media it has not even begun and managers lack courage, competence or confidence to proceed, within their racist institutions. We believe the Ownership Rules will render statutory support to both enlightened Managers and Owners to move matters forward.

  Consequently, minority communities, now assisted by digitalisation, have had to develop their own parallel communication media. There is popular, overwhelming and intensive demand from many quarters of the community that they must be allowed to forge ahead. This is quite contrary to our groups aim of an inclusive media industry for all. We recognise that in the medium term, minority media, on television, radio or print must satisfy this need. Until the mainstream media get its act together, this delivery must continue. We believe that each day the BBC, ITV and others fail to cater to the needs of plurality and diversity in its programming, communities are ghettoised even further. Some strongly resent paying a licence fee to a BBC to which they have no access and from which they are marginalised. This continuing failure makes the work of our group doubly difficult, if not impossible.

  Minorities have drifted away from the British newspapers or media in general for some considerable time. They do not see much in it that attracts them. When they observe that the birth of an ordinary white piglet on a farm (lovely as it is), is given greater priority in coverage to a large minority community activity on the same day, which may also interest the wider community, they despair. The disproportionality of reporting the recent 11 September USA events (tragic as they were), against far greater human tragedies elsewhere, leads one to believe that the media relate one white death to 5,000 blacks before even referring to it. The Communications White Paper offered little positive direction to lure them back to play an active role within an all-inclusive media. Currently, they perceive that their inclusion is illusory. We believe that the proposed ownership rules, regulating the quality and diversity of programming and news content, provided it is properly policed by a multiracial OFCOM, offers some support to those of us who believe in a diverse and plural portrayal. We believe those local newspapers or indeed radio and TV ought to be under local control and not part of a huge and powerful conglomerate with its own agenda, unrelated to domestic issues.

  The proposal to hold all broadcasters accountable to provide training for their existing staff and to meet the challenge of a new culturally diverse Britain seems vital. Currently, encouragement for staff to go out and build links with isolated and segregated communities is patchy or a mere box ticking exercise. Self-regulation, in an atmosphere of gentility, in our experience has regrettably but abysmally failed. Hence, we hope that tighter control, through the above proposal will take the matter further forward. We believe that Licences for those sectors of news providers and related organisations must be reviewed and revoked on the basis of non-compliance.

  There does not appear to be a defined requirement on broadcasters to broaden their workforce to include minority communities at all levels within a reasonable time frame. In this context, retention and meritorious promotion is of far greater importance than recruitment. We hear of a perception of being unwelcome in an exclusively White environment, not conducive to self-respect and retention of those painfully recruited. The proposed rules ought to specifically require multiracial OFCOM to monitor this process effectively and with greater transparency. The present system of relying on the old gatekeepers has proved to be largely unsatisfactory and lacks creditability. We believe that the Ownership Rules must firmly address this issue

  There appears to be no commitment that OFCOM and its advisory panels will reflect the plurality of our communities. Neither the White Paper nor the above proposals appear to address this issue, either explicitly or implicitly. With no indication that plurality will be encouraged, we must conclude that it will be suffocated as at present

  We hope our above contribution is useful. However, we would be happy to present further oral evidence and examples, if invited to do so. We authorise this response to remain in the public domain and widely circulated.

7 January 2002

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