New survey reveals level of ethnic minority representation on TV
Earlier this week leading black, Asian and visible ethnic minority (BAVEM)* TV personalities including Idris Elba, Lenny Henry and Meera Syal wrote to UK broadcast executives calling for them to improve their representation of ethnic minorities on TV. Recent survey results from the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism at City University London have found that only two broadcasters, the BBC and Sky One, accurately represent the ratio of white people to ethnic minorities in England and Wales in their programming.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the population ratio in England and Wales is 86% white to 14% BAVEM.
Channel 4 have what appears to be a good ratio of 82% white to 18% BAVEM across their programming, yet they had a very uneven representation of BAVEM. There were 3.5:1 white people to BAVEMs in the news, and 6:1 in other programming. However, the programming figures were skewed by the programme Child Genius - The Final, were 13 out of 20 contributors were BAVEM. Taking the news and Child Genius out of the equation, Channel 4 achieves a ratio of only 1:10 BAVEM to white people.
Channel 5 had a ratio or 4:1 white people to BAVEM, but their high score masked an overall negative portrayal of BAVEM contributors. The impression of the monitor was that BAVEM contributors were seven times as likely to be negatively portrayed, particularly in the programmes Dangerous Dog Owners and Proud and Police Interceptors.
The survey also found that Channel 5 had a very low level of contributors to news programmes, however, a high proportion of contributors who did appear were BAVEM - eight out of 13. Most days, primetime news consisted of five minute updates, with a BAVEM news presenter, resulting in a ratio of 1.5 to 1 in favour of BAVEM on the news. The analysts note however that this is not comparable with other news channels as Channel 5 had a BAVEM news presenter and very few other news contributors. Their overall ratio across programming was 4:1.
ITV's overall ratio is the poorest of those measured at a ratio of 7:1 (88% white to 12% BAVEM). On ITV News the ratio is one BAVEM to four white people (4:1) and in their other programmes the ratio is 8.5:1. This is despite the channel's soap operas (Coronation Street and Emmerdale) which do well for BAVEMs. The spread of BAVEM contributors is poor on ITV, with many documentaries and lifestyle programmes having no BAVEM contributors in the monitored period.
The BBC scored well on BAVEM representation and is remarkably consistent across all genres of programming. There is a ratio of approximately 4.3:1 on news and 4.5:1 on other programming overall. The ratio of white people to BAVEM is 4.4:1 overall (82% white).
Lastly, Sky was easily the best channel for BAVEM contributors scoring a ratio of 3:1. However, this study only looked at British programming and British contributors and there were only half as many British contributors on Sky One as on the BBC, and less than half compared to ITV. ITV had the greatest number of British contributors overall.
The soaps have a reflective proportion of BAVEM to white actors. Emmerdale has 5.2 white people to 1 BAVEM, while Coronation Street has 6.8:1. On the BBC, EastEnders is 4.4:1. The worst genres are topical, factual and entertainment. On ITV's All Star Mr and Mrs the ratio was 7:0, Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies was 19:1, Location Location Location was 11:1. In entertainment, the BBC's National Lottery Gameshow was 5:0, Room 101 was 4:0; Channel 4's Virtually Famous was 9:0, The Singer Takes It All was 8:1 and One Born Every Minute was 16:1.
The programme with the highest proportion of BAVEM contributors was Got To Dance on Sky One. The programme on 9th August had twice as many BAVEM contributors (32) to white contributors, followed by Channel 5's Dangerous Dog Owners and Proud (4th August) which had almost twice as many BAVEM contributors as white contributors. Meanwhile Child Genius - The Final on Channel 4 had 13 BAVEM contributors to seven white contributors - almost 2:1.
Positive and Negative Portrayals
Although Channel 5 scored well numerically, the impression of the monitor was that BAVEM contributors were seven times as likely to be negatively portrayed, particularly in the programmes Dangerous Dog Owners, Proud and Police Interceptors. On all other channels, positive portrayals outweighed negative portrayals.
A point of extra concern was that while news scored well, white reporters vastly outnumbered BAVEM reporters. ITV had 49 white reporters on screen to five BAVEM reporters; Channel 4 had 30 to two; BBC1 had 37 to four, Channel 5 had four to 0. (Sky One was not applicable). This echoes similar research into the role of women which shows that news reporting is a white, middle-class male prerogative.
Director of Broadcasting at City University London, Lis Howell, says; "When you dig deep into these figures you realise the enormous gap between representation of white and BAVEM people in programmes broadcast in England and Wales. What is alarming is the number of white middle class men reporting the news and the representation of BAVEM's in drama programmes outside the soaps. The biggest problem lies in factual entertainment programming where BAVEM's are almost invisible."
The survey was funded by the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival and sponsored by Broadcast Magazine. Programmes were monitored on Monday 4th August, Wednesday 6th August, Friday 8th August, Saturday 9th August, Sunday 10th August, Tuesday 12th August and Thursday 14th August between the hours of 7 and 11pm.