Why British TV needs to rethink its approach to diversity

Wa’qaar A Mirza, co-founder and global CEO of Safi Ideas, whose UK-based production outfit is behind the children’s animation Zayn & Zayna’s Little Farm, explains why it is time the British TV industry rethinks its approach to diversity.

Diversity in the media and TV has been a hot topic for several years, and rightly so, yet in 2021 it still seems to be a hot topic for discussion but not really acted upon.

The Creative Diversity Network’s latest Diamond report has shown that diversity in British TV actually fell in 2020, despite it being the year the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, becoming a global campaign following the death of George Floyd. 2020 was a year we saw people demanding change, expressed through marches, protests and campaigning, but it seems the British TV industry has failed to hear the cry for diversity with the current approach to diversity and inclusivity clearly not working.

I can’t help but feel diversity is often seen as a quota or target to reach

Wa’qaar A Mirza

The report also highlighted how the representation of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people working in the industry, both on-screen and behind the camera, decreased to 11.8% in 2020, dropping from 12.3% in 2019, both of which are below the 13% workforce estimate in the UK. These findings again demonstrate the lack of actual change in the industry and the need for a rethink.

End the box-ticking
From my experience in the TV and film industry, I can’t help but feel diversity is often seen as a quota or target to reach, where it is treated as a box-ticking exercise. Instead of creating an inclusive environment or workplace, we are seeing a tokenistic gesture and nod to the cause. Diversity needs to be seen as much more than just a quota; it is the heart of our society in the UK, it makes up each community and holds a place in every story. How are we supposed to tell relatable, believable stories to our children and our children’s children, without showcasing a fair reflection of our multicultural society to the audiences watching? The only real way to tackle this is to consider diversity throughout the entire production chain, to include stories from all ethnicities that are shared by a fair representation of people across a diverse range of backgrounds.

Additionally, broadcasters should remind themselves why we need diversity; it isn’t just to represent minorities, be socially correct and be fair and inclusive employers. It’s also to provide alternative accurate representations to stereotypical, racist and tokentistic representations we have seen on repeat in the media throughout history. This is why Safi Ideas created Zayn And Zayna’s Little Farm, a diverse children’s animation that educates viewers on inclusive behaviour whilst portraying complex, diverse characters.

Investment opportunities

The teams working in TV and film really do have an opportunity to have a positive effect on society by educating through entertainment, correcting stereotypes and providing inclusive platforms to tell stories from new, accurate angles. By taking this forward-thinking approach we can create content and entertainment that represents the genuine multicultural society Britain harnesses.

In addition to focusing on the positives advocating diversity brings, the UK TV industry may see the investment opportunities that will follow. With the number of streaming platforms increasing and hundreds of TV channels available to viewers, the competition between broadcasters is high, yet an opportunity to show diversity and tap into a new market has so far been missed in the UK. There are over 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, with over 2.5 million in the UK; making the Muslim audience alone just one example of market potential. We’ve seen opportunities like these already identified within other sectors, such as UK fashion retailers like H&M, ASOS and Nike investing in this growing demographic and creating their own ‘modest’ clothing lines. It’s easy to see why when Muslim spending on clothing is predicted to reach $361 billion by 2023.

Embracing diversity within the media has so many benefits both short and long term, for society as well as the corporations that implement change. It really is time for less discussions and more actions to be put in place. Audiences are crying out for diverse content and the media has a responsibility to bridge that gap in missing content while sizing the opportunity to make a difference. The time for change is now. Let’s make the tokenistic tick-box approach to diversity a thing of the past.

Tags: Safi Ideas

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