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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
TV 'ignores' ethnic minorities
Kat and Anthony from the London-set soap opera EastEnders
EastEnders: Soaps and lifestyle shows are criticised
Ethnic minorities are not seen on British TV as much as they are in the "real world", with Asian and Chinese people particularly under-represented, a report says.

Some of the most popular programmes hardly feature people from a non-white background, according to the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

Minorities made up just over 5% of people on television - excluding foreign programmes and foreign visitors - compared with the 6.7% of the country's population that is non-white.

And Asian and Chinese faces were "pitifully sparse" - despite making up 4.3% of the population.

Gurbux Singh, chairman of the CRE
CRE's Gurbux Singh: "A very long way to go"
But black actors, presenters and interviewees do not fare so badly, with a higher proportion on the television than in the country as a whole.

The study found that in one week, the only black or Asian faces in BBC2's top 10 shows, with a combined audience of 33 million, were in the US cartoon The Simpsons.

The only contributions ethnic minorities made in lifestyle shows were occasional appearances on cookery programmes.

The Communications Research Group compiled the report for the CRE and studied the top 10 programmes on all five main channels between 20 November and 17 December 2000.

They found that overall, non-whites made up 8.4% of people on screens.

BBC comedy show Goodness Gracious Me
Goodness Gracious Me: BBC's hit all-Asian show
But when foreign shows and pictures of foreign visitors and politicians were taken into account, that figure fell to 5.2%.

Black people made up 3.7% of that, whereas they make up just over 2% of the population as a whole. Asian people made up just 1% of participants in TV shows, and "other ethnic minorities", including Chinese, accounted for just 0.2%.

Ethnic minority participants were also far less likely to enjoy major roles.

Broadcasters have also been accused of being colour blind - meaning that although a character could be black or Asian, they could just as easily have been white because their ethnic background had no impact on the story.

And soap operas like EastEnders and Coronation Street - some of the country's most popular shows - received criticism for being "patchy" despite being set in cities with high numbers of black and Asians.

'Making efforts'

Only the Liverpool-set series Brookside was said to be consistent.

Gurbux Singh, chairman of the CRE, said broadcasters are falling short of representing the full range of people in Britain.

"While there are encouraging signs that the number of ethnic minority faces on television is rising, there is clearly some way to go," he said.

"And for some programme makers, a very long way to go before they can call their output truly representative of the British TV audience."

The BBC said it had been making efforts to increase minority presence with shows like Heart of Harlesden and Goodness Gracious Me, and a drive to get more non-white 'experts' on news and discussion shows.

"We have come a long way, no-one disputes that. But we are the first to say that we have got a long way to go, alongside all other broadcasters," a spokesman said.

"We have come a long way from the stereotypes that you might have seen 10 years ago. Anything that helps to raise the attention of both the industry and the public to this whole area has got to be good."

BBC's Fi Glover with Gurbux Singh and Mark Wadsworth
"A very sad statement"
See also:

02 Apr 01 | UK
New era for race relations
12 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Asian runaway bride story 'not racist'
31 Aug 99 | Tom Brook
US networks accused of racism
07 Dec 99 | Entertainment
TV 'failing ethnic minorities'
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