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Adrian Lester calls for ethnic diversity quotas on screen

Adrian Lester has called on Ofcom to set ethnic diversity quotas. Photo: Piers Allardyce Adrian Lester has called on Ofcom to set ethnic diversity quotas. Photo: Piers Allardyce
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Adrian Lester has called on Ofcom to draw up quotas on ethnic diversity that major broadcasters would be forced to meet.

The actor suggested the media watchdog should make diversity representation on screen a requirement for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to maintain their broadcasting licences.

Writing to The Guardian, Lester praised Ofcom for implementing a “vital” minimum quota of television programmes that broadcasters have to make outside of London.

He continued: “Ofcom can play a similar role in ensuring the same level playing field for ethnic diversity as it does for regional diversity. Ofcom could define what true ‘diversity’ in television actually means – as opposed to leaving it up to the best intentions of each broadcaster to come up with their own definition.

“And once Ofcom has done that, it can then stipulate how much of a broadcaster’s programming should be diverse in order to meet its licence requirements.”

Lester added that Ofcom should discuss and create the quotas with broadcasters to ensure they are not “slapped down on each channel from on high”.

“The objective here is to reflect our incredibly rich national identity back to us so that we have a deeper understanding of our past and our present. I believe it will help our society form a more cohesive present and future,” he said.

An Ofcom spokeswoman responded: “We welcome all ideas about how to improve diversity, both within the industry and on screen. Ofcom is working with the Creative Diversity Network and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on practical steps for broadcasters to take. But it’s clear there is more work to do to ensure broadcasting truly reflects the diverse nature of the UK today.”

Lester’s comments follow those of Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, who said last week at a Royal Television Society convention that broadcasters need to do more to represent society “as it is today, not as it was 20, 30, or 40 years ago”.

As reported in The Guardian, she added: “One of the handful of the areas where the [public service broadcasting] system is wanting is around reflecting ourselves at a point when you have got devolution and an increasingly multicultural society.”

Lenny Henry has also called for official targets to make the television sector more diverse.

Last year, Lester urged the theatre industry to “shame” companies that do not reflect the diversity of the UK population.

This story was updated on September 24 to add a response from Ofcom.

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