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News ->'BBC controlled by white cultural elite'

'BBC controlled by white cultural elite'
By Dipankar De Sarkar, London, June 27, 2008 (IANS)

The original ferreira family in BBC 'Eastenders'A senior Indian-origin director at the BBC has accused the corporation of packing the television screen with black and Asian faces while reserving positions of “real power” for a white cultural elite.

"Despite 30 years of trying, the upper reaches of our industry, the positions of real creative power in British broadcasting, are still controlled by a metropolitan, largely liberal, white, middle class, cultural elite - and, until recently, largely male and largely Oxbridge," said Samir Shah, an independent producer and non-executive director at the BBC.



Shah told an audience of television insiders at the Royal Television Society Thursday that black and Asian people were embarrassed by the “tick-box” approach of BBC bosses. “The plain fact is that this tick-box approach to equal opportunities has led to an inauthentic representation of who we are: a world of deracinated coloured people flickering across our screens - to the irritation of many viewers and the embarrassment of the very people such actions are meant to appease.”

“Let's not forget that the UK is still 90 percent white. Not everyone lives in London or the West Midlands,” he said in reference to the two most ethnically diverse regions of Britain.

One instance of what he described as the “fine intentions of equal opportunities” going wrong was when the BBC decided to introduce an Asian family in the popular and long-running television soap, "Eastenders". The serial is set in the East End of London, a neighbourhood that is home to a steadily growing and large population of Bangladeshis, but the BBC decided to introduce the Indian-origin Ferreira family.

“If you were to cast an Asian family in the East End, it should have been Bangladeshi. Instead we had a family of Goan descent," said Shah.

Shah said the reason there were so few executives from ethnic minority backgrounds in broadcasting was because managers liked to "clone" themselves when picking other senior staff. "The search for comfort can take precedence over the search for the best, because cultural cloning carries no immediate cost," he added.

Shah said that when recruiting new senior staff, managers should think about the diversity of their team. He added that if he had a "magic wand", he would "make it incumbent on every major broadcaster and producer in the UK that, within five years, they need to demonstrate that their team of executives with real power over airtime or commissioning budgets come from a variety of different backgrounds, life experiences and ethnicity".

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