David Olusoga: his Edinburgh television festival speech in full
Broadcaster and historian argues racism has led to a ‘lost generation’ of minority ethnic people in the UK TV industry
Good evening and thank you.
It is such an enormous honour to be standing – virtually – here before you today. And it is a truly daunting prospect to be giving this James MacTaggart memorial lecture. I am humbled to have been given this platform to talk to you, the members of the British television industry.
The last time I attended a MacTaggart Lecture was in 1998, when I was part of that year’s Edinburgh television festival’s Ones to Watch – which back then was called TV25. For me it was an amazing experience, to be at the festival so early on in my career, seeing the tribes of television, gathered together. It was then that I got a sense of the scale and dynamism of this great creative kingdom, whose walls I had somehow managed to scale. I learnt a lot and had a lot of fun.
And, of course, the scheme is still going strong. So I would like to say a very special welcome to the Ones To Watch of the Edinburgh Television festival of 2020 – Zeb, Aodh, Abby, Felicity, Tasha, Amber, Alice, Grace, Evelyn, Hanz, Charlie, Helen, Sara, Hannah, Roopesh, Frances, Lucy, Michael, Elena, Melody, Laura, Art, Gary, Olivia, Sophia, Kate, Fabian, Amy, Yero and Camilla. I hope the festival sessions have been as eye-opening for you as they were for me in 1998.
Looking back at MacTaggart lectures of the past it’s almost compulsory, in the first couple of minutes, to say something along the lines of “this has been a year of incredible change”, or “we stand on the threshold of a new era for our industry”. But in 2020 I think claims like that have never been truer.
2020 has been a historic year, a year of terrifying and bewildering events that have affected all our lives. And the impact of the past six months on our industry has been serious and troubling. At ITV profits for the first half of the year have halved, although most productions are now back up and running. Channel 4, in what should have been the channel’s first year with its shiny new regional hubs up and running, and adding new voices to the TV landscape, has faced a year of lost revenues and cuts to its programming budget. And we now have some idea of how the pandemic and lockdown, and the suspension of normal life for us all, has changed viewing patterns. The uptake in SVod’s [subscription viewing on-demand] has changed viewing habits for ever. The day after lockdown began, Disney+ was launched in UK. Since then it has become the world’s third largest SVOD channel. On top of all of these changes we can be sure that every broadcaster and production company, indeed everyone who works in our industry or aspires to work it, is going to be buffeted by the recession that is already upon us and becoming more severe by the week.
But the other seismic event of 2020 of course was the brutal murder of George Floyd and the global movement that has coalesced under the banner of Black Lives Matter. These events – the pandemic and Floyd’s murder created a chain reaction. A new virus made manifest and obvious some of the oldest and deepest inequalities in our society.
Black Lives Matters and the pandemic have forced our society to have conversations that for decades we have put off or avoided. 2020 is not – therefore – the year to avoid hard truths or pull punches. In the spirit of Black Lives Matters, in the spirit of an age in which millions of people have come to recognise that silence on these issues is a form of complicity, I am going to say what I really think about race, racism and our industry. And I’ll discover if, at the end of it, I still have a career.
I’m going to talk about my own experiences and those of other black people I’ve known in my years in TV. I’m going to speak from my perspective, that of a black person, but I’m well aware that these issues affect people from other minority backgrounds and that race, class, gender, sexuality and disability all intersect.
At other times I’ve been so crushed by my experiences, so isolated and disempowered by the culture that exists within our industry
I have spent over 20 years in this industry and I have – I hope – a distinct perspective. I have seen it seen from both behind and in front of the camera, from within the BBC and from the indie sector. I’ve been given amazing opportunities, but I’ve also been patronised and marginalised. I’ve been in high demand, but I’ve also been on the scrapheap. I’ve felt inspired, and convinced that our job – making TV and telling stories – is the best job in the world. But at other times I’ve been so crushed by my experiences, so isolated and disempowered by the culture that exists within our industry, that I have had to seek medical treatment for clinical depression. I’ve come close to leaving this industry on several occasions. And I know many black and brown people who have similar stories to tell.
I am going to talk about those experiences and later I’m going to offer my thoughts as to how our industry might ensure that this moment – this year of 2020 – is a real and decisive moment of change.
Only those who remember the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s can recall a time when the issues of race and racism were so passionately debated and so firmly on the agenda. Millions of people have, this year, engaged with these issues as never before. In June this year five of the top ten, best-selling factual books in the UK were on race or black history.
In 2020 industry after industry, company after company, institution after institution re-examined their policies and their internal cultures and found them wanting. Some have acknowledged the existence of structural racism within the internal cultures. Others have faced up to their historic roles in slavery or imperialism.
Our industry has been part of this great wave of introspection and action. The UK broadcasters have responded to Black Lives Matter with new initiatives. Vast sums – we are assured – have been pledged or ring fenced. Improvements are promised in diversity in the of production staff, senior management and commissioning, and new programmes have been commissioned. So much has been promised that there is reason to hope that this really is a moment of change for our industry. Rather than a false dawn – and we have had a number of those.
Later, I’d like to ask what it will take for the commitments made by the UK broadcaster to bring about real change. But first I want to talk about the mountain we have to climb and here most of what I have to say you will have heard before. You may well have heard it from black and brown colleagues. And in many ways that is the problem. We have heard it all before. But little has changed.
For as long as I’ve been in this industry we collectively have been aware that the people who make and commission the UK’s television programmes do not look like the population at large – our audience. In 2016 Directors UK reported that just 2.22% of TV programmes were made by BAME directors. And of the directors on their dataset just 3.6% were BAME, which means even though the industry has long claimed to be crying out for black producers and directors, many of those already in the industry were then not getting work.
Then there is the problem of retention. In their submission to the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, Film and TV Charity reported that even before the current crisis 73% of BAME production talent had considering leaving the TV industry.
In the time I have been in television the vast majority of the senior black industry figures I have come across working within the UK broadcasters have moved to the indie sector or left the industry. Some of this is normal churn but much of it is not and that exodus has the left the industry exposed. One of the sessions at this year’s Edinburgh television festival asks when will television have its first black channel controller. Twelve years ago the festival ran a similar panel asking the same question. Will the festival of 2030 have yet another panel asking that question for a third time?
We are all so used to this state of affairs that – I believe – we struggle to imagine what proper representation would look like. If you were to walk on to a filming location in London and 36% – more than a third – of the cast and crew were black or brown, you really would notice it. It really would feel unusual. And yet all that would represent, for a London production, is a proper reflection of the ethnic make-up of that city’s workforce. But of course none of us have had that experience because that never happens.
David Olusoga has presented the BBC Two’s A House Through Time, as well as documentaries on black British history and slavery. Photograph: Stuart Cobley/Alamy Stock Photo
It is wonderful that our industry has figures like Steve McQueen, and the others I could mention. But there is a risk we point to those exceptions and use their talents and achievements to hide from the wider reality.
I stand here today not as one of the TV industry success stories, but as a survivor. I am one of the last men standing of TV’s lost generation. The generation of black and brown people who entered this industry 15, 20, 25 years ago with high hopes. I’m a survivor of a culture within TV that failed that generation. I’m here because a handful of people used their power and their privilege to help me.
One of the defining features of our age is the phenomena psychologists call self-attribution fallacy or self-attribution bias – the belief, held by some of those who have enjoyed a degree of success, that everything they have achieved is solely down to their own talents and hard work. My experiences of this industry make it impossible for me to nurse any such a delusion.
I have been extraordinarily lucky, because when I watched the McTaggart lecture of 1998 the odds for a black person from my socio-economic background, with no industry contacts and no financial support, getting anywhere in our industry were not great.
While I was trying to build a career in TV thousands of other black and brown men and women were giving up on our industry – as I came close to doing more than once. Between 2006 and 2012 BAME employment in UK TV declined by 30.9%. That means more black people left the industry than joined, at a time when the overall number of jobs in the industry as a whole was expanding. Black people are still leaving the TV industry at higher rates than their white colleagues. Showing again that the industry’s failure has not been one solely of access but also and critically of retention.
There is a brutal answer to the question why is there a lack of black controllers, black company owners and black commissioners – the people we need right now, to bring their experiences, their stories, their viewpoints, and those of the communities they come from into our industry. That answer is that we had them – and we lost them. They left because our industry failed to support their careers and nurture their talents. They left because they never got the next contract, because no one championed them or help plan their careers. Some are running indies, some have left TV altogether.
They left because even when they got work their voices were too often not listened to, their stories too often were not of interest to the taste makers and programme pickers who, over the same period, grew ever more powerful within the structure of TV. They’re not here now because we didn’t have the will to keep them and – worn out by it all – they gave up on our industry.
In the summer of 2020 one member of TV’s lost generation was at the centre of the Black Lives Matter moment. When the statue of a slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol at the beginning of June, very close to where I am talking to you from now, every major news outlet rushed to secure an interview with Marvin Rees – the elected mayor of Bristol.
Everyone wanted a piece of Marvin, not just because he is mayor but because of his own amazing backstory. A descendent of enslaved black people from Jamaica and of working-class, white Bristolians he was brought up on council estates and yet rose to become mayor of a city that for 125 years had lionised and validated a slave trader. It was a great story, with a leading-man straight out of central-casting, an articulate figure who saw events from a unique perspective. And to the delight of both print journalists and TV news crew from across the world Marvin also turned out to be a brilliant interviewee, he knew how to deliver perfect sentences and neat soundbites, how to tell a story with an economy of words and yet still land the big ideas. He was every producer’s dream interviewee.
Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees, who had a career at the BBC before entering politics. Olusoga believes Rees is an example of the lost generation of BAME people in TV. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian
But there is a reason why Marvin is so good in front of camera, and that is because he spent years working behind camera, at the BBC in Bristol. But the talents of the black guy who now runs a city were seemingly invisible to the people who then ran the newsroom. There were some who recognised his skills, talents and integrity, but not enough for him to have anything like the sort of investment in his career planning that I have seen lavished upon other people in my time in this industry. The recipients of that sort of investment are those whom managers and indie bosses can envisage one day doing their jobs. And in my experience those selected for such elevation tend to be carbon copies of the managers who champion their careers.
Thwarted and marginalised Marvin had the nerve to do what I was too timorous to do, he left TV to look for other avenues for his talents, and he was lost to the industry. He could be running a production company, or be commissioning the very programmes we need to respond to the challenge thrown down by Black Lives Matter. Perhaps if Marvin’s many talents had been recognised back there might be no need to have a session asking when UK TV will have its first black controller.
As a historian I can tell you that if you can run Bristol – a city that is so proudly political, edgy and radical that we had a mini-riot over the unwanted opening of a small branch of Tescos – if you can run Bristol you can run a TV channel.
What are the consequences of the haemorrhaging of such talent? Well, it was the same newsroom in Bristol, that last month decided that it was acceptable for a white reporter to use the N word in a news report. Leading to almost 20,000 complaints and an official apology by the director general. If, however, in another alternative existence, Marvin might have been there, or on the end of the phone, as a senior colleague, to give advice, that incident, that has genuinely damaged faith in the BBC among many black people, might have been avoided. Or perhaps – in this alternative reality – Marvin might have gone into documentaries, perhaps, into the history department that decided that it was OK for a white production team, making a programme dealing with slavery, to write a script for a white presenter that also used the N word.
These damaging missteps are, I believe, consequences of TV having lost a generation of black and brown people like Marvin Rees, people who should now be among the leaders of in our industry.
I stayed in TV because I lacked Marvin’s nerve. But also because making TV documentaries, particularly in my case history and art documentaries, was what I really really wanted to do. I am a product of the culture of public service broadcasting that emerged in this country getting on for a century ago. Documentaries, particularly those on the BBC, changed my life, they broadened my horizons and inspired me want to study history. Although, as I later discovered, that when he drafted the high-minded principles of public service broadcasting Lord Reith didn’t exactly have people like me and my family in mind.
I was in my mid-twenties when I made the decision to try to break into television. But that decision was founded not just on a love of history documentaries, but also on naivety.
Because, in all honesty, if I had known how lonely it was going to be being black in this industry, how much the deck was stacked against me – in terms of both race and class – I am sad to say that would have never attempted a career in television.
If this industry had … set out to intentionally design mechanisms by which to keep out people like me … it would have struggled to come up with something more effective than the culture that existed when I joined the industry
Yet looking back the clues were there form the start. If this industry had, decades ago, set out to intentionally design mechanisms by which to keep out people like me – from council estates with no contacts or family wealth to fall back on – it would have struggled to come up with something more effective than the culture that existed when I joined the industry.
First there is the tradition of unpaid internships and work experience, opportunities often acquired through family contacts and only open to those with the financial resources to survive months of unpaid work, often in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world. One of the few real positives of recent years is the increase in the number of paid internships. Those who get over that hurdle then face casual, informal forms of recruitment that favour those with soft-skills and backgrounds and interests like those doing the recruiting.
On top of that there is our casual, freelance culture of short-term contracts, that makes work in our industry just too risky for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Less talked about but still present is the invisible nexus of old school ties and Oxbridge networks. What I learnt in my early years in TV is that there were parts of the industry in which diversity meant making sure that there was a fair balance of people from Oxford and Cambridge.
I have seen the privileged lifted over the barriers to entry that so effectively keep others out
In my career I have seen senior producers use the system of unpaid internships as a mechanism through which to bring young people who had attended their private schools into the industry, and then mentor them and nurture their careers. I have seen the children of the influential and the famous given opportunities to get a foot in the door and launch careers. I have seen the privileged lifted over the barriers to entry that so effectively keep others out.
Even when black people overcome those barriers and scale the high walls of TV they are, too often, caught in a trap. They are the victims of a way of thinking that contains within it the same twisted logic of a witch trial. They are said to be lacking the experience to land the big, career-advancing, reputation-enhancing jobs, which means they rarely get those jobs, which in turn means they never get the experience to dispel that portrayal. I spent part of my career in exactly that state of limbo.
Yet from the outside, from the perspective of our audiences, TV appears to be doing much better at representing the nation. TV’s lack of diversity and lack of career paths for black and brown people is often most pronounced in the parts that are least visible. In drama BAME representation is far lower behind the camera that in front of it. On-screen contributions (26.4%) by BAME talent are more than three times higher than off-screen involvement (8.6%). In children’s TV and in comedy there are almost twice as many people from BAME background in front of camera than behind it.
There is willingness to accept black people as performers, in front of the camera, but unwillingness on the part of the industry to make space for them behind the scenes, in the rooms where the decisions are made and the real creativity happens. When I became a presenter I could not help but notice that that our industry was far more comfortable with me in that capacity than it ever has been with me as a producer. I set up my own production company with my business partner as it seemed to be the only way open to me of remaining producer, working behind the camera.
In this year’s BAFTAs, and in differences between the diversity within the television awards and the craft awards, I think you can see exactly this pattern. The [National] Television Awards for 2020 recognised our many successful diverse actors and presenters. Mo Gilligan, Naomi Ackie, Idris Elba and Romesh Ranganathan all won awards. Other award-winning shows had diverse cast and crew members. In that most glamorous showcase our industry’s record on diversity looked good. But it was a completely different story at the craft awards, those that recognise the skills and talents of the people who make programmes – camera operators, sound operators, directors, graphics designers. The craft awards did not have a single black or Asian winner.
Black and brown people in this industry talk about this among ourselves, about stalled careers, impossible barriers to progress. The other things black TV people talk about is of not being listened to.
Two years ago Michaela Coel talked, from this platform, about what she called her “slave ship incident”, in which she’d witnessed how black actors, on one of her own productions, had been expected to accept inferior treatment. Like many black people in the industry that experience struck home, in my case it did so because I had one just like it. The irony was that mine took place actually on a reconstructed slave plantation that we had built in Jamaica for a drama-documentary.
As we were filming in a remote location we set up our own catering and on the first day cast crew and extras queued up for lunch. But without informing me it had been decided that the actors and the crew were to eat first, the extras would get their lunch afterwards. Standard procedure perhaps, but the unintentional effect was that white people ate first and black people only after they had finished.
So beside a recreated 18th-century slave village, on the actual site of a former slave plantation, in the hills of a former slave colony the extras, themselves descendants of enslaved people, queued up and waited for the white folk to finish their lunch.
Nothing in our industry ever has anything to do with race, because our industry is full of people who have convinced themselves that they are “colour-blind” and “just don’t see colour”
What was most shocking about this to me was that my white colleagues – good, decent, creative people – genuinely could not see the problem, a problem that the black actors and the black extras had no problem seeing. When I challenged by colleagues I was met with a wall of hostility and resistance. This – I was assured – had nothing to do with race; but then nothing in our industry ever has anything to do with race, because our industry is full of people who have convinced themselves that they are “colour-blind” and “just don’t see colour”. A laudable ambition but here’s the problem with it; being blind to race is being blind to the way race operates within our society, and that means being blind to the lived experiences of black and brown people.
One of my overwhelming memories looking back at 20 years in television is of loneliness. Because being the only black person in the room or on location is not just about skin colour. It is about differences of experience. Being the only black person on a production means being the only person asking certain questions, the only person uncomfortable that an image or a sequence reinforces certain stereotypes. Like other black people I know in this industry I’ve spent my career complaining that scripts or rough cuts contain interviews with white experts, while all the black contributors are victims of the phenomena in question or are speaking about their personal experiences – their feelings not their expertise. I have fought against directors who seem to subconsciously believe that educated black people are somehow inauthentic, as if being uneducated and unlettered is the natural, authentic condition for people with dark skin. These tropes, this sort of unexamined thinking, when left unchallenged, can reinforce the very stereotypes and inequalities that we should be challenging.
No industry training scheme and no amount of monitoring will lead to real change unless we accept that merely having black people in the room is not enough. The industry also needs to listen to us, to value our perspectives and our stories, to understand that we come from a different place, consume different culture, read different books, and see the world from a different perspective. And that that perspective is valuable. When TV accepts this and listens to the creative visions of people like Michaela Coel and Steve McQueen audiences are enthralled.
There are consequences of always being in a minority of one. Always being in a minority of one, fighting every fight alone, seeing what others don’t see, all of this takes its toll
Marginalising the voices of non-white producers and directors risks inhibiting our industry’s ability to tell a wider range of stories. But it is also damaging non-white people themselves. There are consequences of always being in a minority of one. Always being in a minority of one, fighting every fight alone, seeing what others don’t see, all of this takes its toll. My own history of depression testifies to that. When I asked Marvin Rees why he had finally given up and left the industry this is what he said, “The truth is, the BBC just wore me down with hopelessness.’’
Of course Black people are not alone in being affected by what Variety has called TV’s mental health crisis but seeking to escape from a work culture that is emotionally damaging is one of the reasons they often give for leaving our industry.
The culture of television is, at times, not only devastating to the mental health it can also be reputationally catastrophic. Many of the black people I have known in my years in TV have at, some point or other in their career, been labelled “difficult”. One colleague I worked with complained endlessly that I was especially difficult.
I was difficult whenever I talked about the sensitivities of black history, or warned of the danger of racial tropes, or of unintentionally reinforcing racial stereotypes. I was, they told me, too political, too sensitive, too difficult. But – my colleague had a solution. What I needed to do, I was told, was to be more like another black person they knew.
This other black guy was far more relaxed, less caught up in all of this history stuff, he didn’t feel the need to discuss race, racism, stereotypes and all the other annoying stuff. If only I could be more like him, because then we would all just “get along”.
I began to wonder if perhaps the reason they were so unthreatening, so relaxed and so laid back might have been because the black person I was being urged to emulate was my colleague’s cannabis dealer
This ideal black guy was someone my colleague would hang out with. He’d come round their house and listen to music – in perfect racial harmony. As this piece of advice went on, and I learnt more details about this ideal black person, I began to wonder if perhaps the reason they were so unthreatening, so relaxed and so laid back might have been because the black person I was being urged to emulate was my colleague’s cannabis dealer.
Don’t know stuff, don’t have opinions that clash with mine, don’t challenge me or my presumptions. Be the sort of black person I’m comfortable with. Be more like my drug dealer. That is what I was told by a colleague in our industry.
It often feels as of our diversity is cherished only so long as it doesn’t upset the values and beliefs of those with power. And once stamped with the label “difficult”, which of course comes with implied threats to career and career advancement, black people face an impossible choice. They can either stay silent about their views and their experiences, or they can speak out and risk being rendered unemployable.
These sorts of experiences are – I am afraid – common among black and brown people in our industry. The failure to get the jobs needed to build careers, the failure to be listened to, the ease with which they were labelled difficult. Television’s lost generation spent their careers in a strange Orwellian world of doublethink. They listened to announcement after announcement, saw initiatives launched and watched training schemes come and go. Yet at the same time their own careers and those of black and brown people around them withered on the vine. Official pronouncements and lived experiences bore little relationship to one another.
The initiatives and training schemes of the past 30 years were largely focused on bringing black people into the industry. The fundamental philosophy underlying most of those initiatives was that black and brown people needed to be better trained and better instructed in how to “fit in” and “get on” within the industry, not that the culture of the industry itself needed to undergo any significant structural or cultural change.
Black Lives Matter has transformed debates about race more profoundly than any phenomenon I have known in my lifetime. Among the ideas the movement has forced into public consciousness is that the work of confronting racism and racial injustice is not the task of black and brown people alone. If true diversity is our aim the mechanism to achieve it is inclusion, which entails not merely bringing black people into an industry but also recognising the ways in which the internal cultures can exclude, marginalise and damage them. When we identify structural inequality we need to make structural changes, not merely seek to bring black and brown people into a system that has historically failed them.
But 30 years of failed initiatives and ineffective training schemes, and the constant haemorrhaging of BAME, talent has left another legacy. A lack of trust so deep that the announcements and initiatives of 2020 have been met, by many black and brown people in the industry, not with enthusiasm and excitement but with scepticism born of repeated disappointment. Proving that this time such scepticism is not warranted is among the biggest challenges facing the UK broadcasters and the indie sector. This task has not been helped by the fact that in the same week the BBC held its diversity festival to promote and celebrate diverse talent the corporation publicly defend the use of the N word – on two occasions.
But there is, I honestly believe, real reason to be hopeful. This time it does feel different. The response of the UK broadcasters to Black Lives Matter are different in multiple respects, distinct from the initiatives of the past. There is a new determination among the broadcasters to drive diversity into senior management, at board level and critically in commissioning. But is there a willingness for real structural and cultural change? And where will accountability come from? Who will determine if the money pledged is actually spent and if recruitment targets are met?
When our industry has made big structural changes in the past its success or failure has been measured and accessed by our industry regulator – Ofcom. But when it comes to diversity Ofcom has a history of giving the broadcasters a clean bill of health, or at worst a cursory note that they could do better, but with no consequences attached or even suggestions as to what better would look like.
Just as there is a historic lack of trust towards the broadcasters, Ofcom, I am sad to say, lacks credibility and trust among many black and Asian programme makers. If Ofcom is not able or not willing to hold the industry accountable on diversity and inclusion, or able to use its power to set minimum standards, then the DCMS should set up a new body willing to do so. This moment in 2020, with so much money on the table and so many promises made, is the perfect time for such a body to be brought into existence. This is not asking for a revolution but merely asking for accountability.
And it is not just the broadcasters who need to be held accountable. The part of our industry in which most people are employed is independent production. The independent sector need to do better, and needs to want to do better. All companies but particularly the larger ones need to champion careers and spot talent. They need to recognise that many of the young black and brown people who have got a foot in the door of our industry have already climbed mountains of disadvantage that their more privileged peers have never encountered and know little about.
At the beginning of every production we ask ourselves what will the team photograph would look like. Will it resemble the country we actually live in and the audiences we actually serve?
In the years me and my business partner have been running our small production company what has made us most proud are not just the programs we have made, but the diverse teams we have assembled to make them – both in front and behind of the camera. At the beginning of every production we ask ourselves what will the team photograph would look like. Will it resemble the country we actually live in and the audiences we actually serve? Like every company we have much more to do.
When we have seen real upheavals in our industry in the past it has been about restructuring the industry with regards to who has the power. In my time in television the broadcasters and the independent sector made enormous strides addressing TV’s London bias. Look at the energy, inventiveness and decisiveness that went into that. New production bases willed into existence in Salford, Leeds, Glasgow and here in Bristol, with indies rushing to set up offices in those cities and cultivate local production talent.
Both indies and broadcasters need to find the same energy and apply it to diversity and inclusion, we have to fully own this problem and find the will to effect change. And we need to do this now because 2020 hasn’t just been one of those dramatic years in politics. It has been a moment of generational change. The pandemic – the reason why we are not together in Edinburgh today – took the older generations off the streets and handed them over to the young, who used that space to make demands about the issues that matter to them.
There is one thing about this generation, that I have learnt while lecturing and talking to students, and to young people who read my books or watch the programmes I present. It is something that I don’t think we in this industry yet appreciate. This generation’s attitude to race and discrimination is profoundly different from that of previous generations. They don’t just oppose racism, they are repelled by it – disgusted by it.
Young people in this country – both black and white – simply do not want to live in a society disfigured by racism and racial inequality. And they are willing to have the difficult conversations that the generations before them chose to avoid.
Black Lives Matter is a movement with a simple message – silence, inaction or ineffective action is not neutrality it is complicity.
The generation that is leading this global shift in consciousness and for whom these principles are sacred, is also the generation that our industry is at risk of losing. They are a generation we have yet to convince of the lesson I learnt in my childhood – of the magical, transformative, educative power of public service broadcasting. This is a generation to whom we have yet to demonstrate our relevance.
So in the end it comes down to this, does our industry have the will to genuinely share power with those who have, for so very long, been marginalised and silenced?