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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 15:04 GMT
Diversity 'essential for news'
By Roger Mosey
Head of TV News

BBC News must move beyond the chattering classes and into the issues which are shaping the nation, argues "diversity champion" and TV news chief Roger Mosey.

Muslim girls with British flags
A multi-racial Britain needs a multi-racial BBC, the corporation says
There is a problem with the "d" word.

It was something we grappled with when we were drawing up the BBC values: "diversity" as a concept is one that few people disagree with, but it's become tainted by association with numerical targets and the gloomier end of political correctness.

So if I have one mission as BBC News's champion of diversity, it's to try to reclaim the word as something that lifts the spirits - and to recognise it as a spur to healthy pluralism in our workforce and in our programmes.

Diversity has tended to be seen as being about better representation of ethnic minorities.

That is, and will remain, a key task: a multi-racial Britain requires a multi-racial BBC.

But true diversity is about pushing all sorts of other boundaries too.

We want to improve our portrayal of the UK: geographically, culturally, demographically

Working class

It means questioning whether we represent working class communities as well as we portray the middle classes.

It raises concerns about our age profile as an organisation because we seem to discard too many people by the time they're 50.

And it's about including challenging views from left and right as well as from the comfortable centre.

Diversity is not about imposing a liberal world view: it is, at its simplest, about representing all facets of the United Kingdom - as a complicated, contradictory and vibrant country.

If we get it right, that will then feed into programmes; and the aim is simple. It's to make the output more interesting.

There's great work being done every day across News but, at times, we gravitate to the conventional with a predictable range of subjects and the usual suspects as interviewees.

A focus on diversity can help programme makers with fresh ideas and new contributors - and as the BBC we should be swiftly onto new ideas wherever they come from.

'Asylum problem'

I've said before that, as an organisation, we were slow to pick up grassroots concern about the scale of the asylum problem two or three years ago.

And we also under-reported the disenchantment of young Muslims with conventional politics before it became more evident after the Iraq war.

These are just two examples of how diversity can help us to move away from a chattering class London mindset and into the issues which are shaping the nation.
BBC NEWS DIVERSITY TARGETS
Disabled staff busy at work
In 2004/5, BBC News aims to reflects the diversity of the UK through portrayal and employment, in particular:
Actively ensure that BBC News works towards the target of 12.5% of total workforce and 7% of senior management coming from minority ethnic groups
Work towards the target of 4% for the proportion of people with disabilities working for BBC News
Continue to implement the diversity action plan for BBC News

So we now have a new diversity group in News that takes in people from across our various departments, and which will act as a stimulus for ideas.

But it will make things happen, too.

We want to be better as an employer at recruiting the right people and making sure this a good place to work, no matter how hard the climate in the years ahead.

We want to improve our portrayal of the United Kingdom: geographically, culturally, demographically.

And we want to reach out to underserved audiences, to people who think that the BBC is "not for me".

Our work in News will tie in with the initiatives being carried out across the Corporation but the aim is to make everything simpler: a few big ideas, some key actions and a sense that is liberating, not oppressive.

Media bias

I had some experience of what might be possible at an event in East London organised by a group called DialogueWithIslam.org.

It was a lively debate about media bias because I was sitting both literally and philosophically between two poles: a radical Islamic thinker and a Christian Zionist.

There's a dangerous BBC response that this proves we're in the right place because we're assailed with equal vigour from the two sides.

But in fact there were times when I thought each side made good points - just as on some questions they were recommending policies which would wrongly lead us away from our core mission of impartiality and fairness.

That, I hope, is something of a model for the way forward.

We should engage with all sections of our audience, and we should both listen to them and explain why we do what we do.

If there are things we could do better, we should change; but equally there will be times when a commitment to plurality means not siding with the view of a particular group, however much they would like us to.

True diversity means just that: freedom of expression, a range of views, no set answers - and some fun in exploring how News can change to reflect its audiences.



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