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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
TV 'ignoring disabled people'
Office worker in wheelchair
The report said disabled people should be seen in a variety of roles
Tessa Jowell, the UK's culture secretary, has backed a call from viewers for greater representation of disabled people on TV.

Her comments came as TV watchdogs published a report showing most viewers thought more disabled people should be seen on screen.

Ms Jowell told members of the Broadcasting and Creative Industries Disability Network (BCIDN) that TV needed to play a strong positive role in influencing attitudes to the disabled.

But, she added that many UK broadcasters had already begun to make efforts to improve the visibility of disabled people both on and off screen.

Tessa Jowell
Ms Jowell said progress was being made

"It's only right that an industry that plays an important part in changing public attitudes not only portrays disabled people in a sympathetic way but also gives them a chance to pursue a career in front of or behind the camera," said Ms Jowell.

"Moreover, it is important that broadcasting and creative industries reflect the make-up of the society they serve."

Manifesto for change

The seminar was attended by representatives from 10 leading TV and film companies, including the BBC, ITV, Five, Channel Four and Carlton TV. The companies are all members of the BCIDN.

They attended the seminar to report back on their organisations' progress in addressing disability, a year after the launch of a BCIDN manifesto for change.

It is understandable that broadcasters are sensitive about involving disabled people in programmes
Patricia Hodgson, ITC chief executive

All 10 companies said they had begun fulfilling their commitment in the key manifesto areas.

These include increasing the presence of disabled people on air and on screen and among the general workforce, making services on and off air accessible, especially buildings.

The BCIDN's progress report coincided with the publication of a study suggesting that nearly four out of five people questioned said they were in favour of a disabled person reading the main evening news bulletin.

But the study - carried out for the BBC, Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) and Independent Television Commission (ITC) - also said broadcasters appeared "more cautious".

They were concerned with perceived audience prejudices, ratings and other possible constraints, the report said.

Audience perception

Sixty-one per cent of viewers said there should be more portrayals of disabled people in a wide variety of roles - including as presenters.

Moves to include disabled people in TV advertising were also welcomed, especially where it challenged negative stereotypes or promoted positive images of disabled people.

ITC chief executive Patricia Hodgson said the feedback shed useful light on expectations about disability.

The Office production shot
BBC comedy The Office included a disabled actress

"It is understandable that broadcasters are sensitive about involving disabled people in programmes, both on and off screen, but this should not be an excuse to shy away from properly representing society," she said.

Some non-disabled viewers found it difficult to accept the idea of more disabled people on screen.

These viewers were less comfortable watching people whom they perceived to be "different".

Some industry professionals also had concerns over how audiences might respond to more "severely" disabled actors or presenters.

The watchdogs' research also examined TV comedy in relation to disabled people.

Viewers accepted that broadcasters and comedians had to tread a fine line between pushing boundaries and the risk of causing offence.

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