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Lenny Henry: ‘BAME TV workers fear the noose if they speak out on diversity’

Lenny Henry Lenny Henry
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Lenny Henry has raised concerns that people from minority ethnic backgrounds working in broadcasting do not feel able to speak up about diversity for fear of being “oppressed or fired”.

Speaking at a House of Lords committee on media diversity, the actor said black, Asian and minority ethnicity workers need safe spaces “to vent their feelings without fearing the noose”.

“The feeling was that there was not space to say stuff that we were unhappy with, without getting oppressed or fired,” he said.

Henry, who is currently appearing in King Hedley II at Theatre Royal Stratford East, also argued that improving the “terrible” diversity in television would not improve with initiatives such as unconscious bias training and mentorships, and called for stronger financial commitment from broadcasters.

“I’m raising the alarm as far as true diversity and inclusion are concerned. Things are terrible,” he said, adding: “The time has come for real action.”

He continued: “We did not increase regional diversity by putting more training schemes in Wales and Manchester, broadcasters put real production money behind it and we have seen real diversity at the BBC grow as a result.

“We did not increase children’s programming by thinking commissioners are prejudiced against children and making them go to unconscious bias training schemes. We did not achieve the amazing growth of British film and TV by giving TV producers mentors.”

Henry suggested introducing measures such as ring-fenced funding for diverse productions and programmes, and contestable funds or tax breaks to encourage investment in BAME productions.

Henry sat on the evidence panel alongside Simon Albury, chair of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality and Marcus Ryder, chief international editor of China Global Television Network.

Albury criticised the industry for having “no urgency of now” around diversity, also highlighting a “stream of promissory notes” that are “rarely backed up with funds”.

He said the most recent data showed a 0.1% year-on-year increase in BBC Studios’ representation, meaning it would take 40 years for its output to be as representative of the UK population, which is 14% BAME.

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