TV Craft Awards: lifting the lid on structural racism

By Media Reform Coalition / Tuesday September 1, 2020 Read More

By a member of BECTU

“Did no-one look around and stop and ask: ‘why are we so white?’”

In part of David Olusoga’s welcome and powerful MacTaggart Lecture he referred to the stark division between the 2020 BAFTA Television Awards and their companion, the Craft Awards.

“The Television Awards for 2020 recognised our many successful diverse actors and presenters. Mo Gilligan, Naomi Ackie, Idris Elba and Romesh Ranganathan all won awards.  Other award-winning shows had diverse cast and crew members. In that most glamorous showcase, our industry’s record on diversity looked good.

“But it was a completely different story at the Craft Awards, those that recognise the skills and talents of the people who make programmes –camera operators, sound operators, directors, graphic designers. The Craft Awards did not have a single Black or Asian winner.”

What David is highlighting is the disparity between on-screen and off-screen diversity.

As he puts it, “there is willingness to accept black people as performers, in front of the camera, but unwillingness on the part of the industry to make space for them behind the scenes, in the rooms where the decisions are made and the real creativity happens”.

This state of affairs is something Bectu has recognised for some time.

In 2018 the union’s Black Members’ Committee analysed that year’s BAFTA Craft awards ceremony.  The awards represent the pinnacle of UK television production, and there is little doubt that all the nominees and winners are very good at their jobs.

But unlike the Television Awards, which give out gongs for best programme and best actor, the Craft Awards have an added frisson in that they allow us to see what (some of) the people who make up television crews actually look like.

One of the problems when analysing off-screen talent is that it is out of sight.  Whereas anyone with enough patience can have a go at analysing the on-screen talent of any particular production, the diversity (or otherwise) behind the camera remains shrouded in mystery.

This is why Bectu has been fighting so hard for the release of programme-level data from the industry’s own equality monitoring scheme, Project Diamond.

Off-screen awards overwhelmingly white

What was discovered from the 2018 ceremony? In total 99 crew members were recognised at the awards. Of these, 98 were white (more on the sole black crew member later). This is shocking, except that it isn’t. Why?  Because as David Olusoga made clear, television crews in the UK are overwhelmingly white.

There is a dearth of proper equality monitoring in television production. Figures are released by broadcasters about their own staff, but where programme making is concerned these are highly misleading.

For example, Channel 4 likes to champion itself as leading the way in the ethnic diversity of its workforce, but Channel 4 is a publisher broadcaster. It doesn’t make any of the programmes it broadcasts, but instead commissions (outsources) programme making to independent production companies.

If you ask Channel 4 what the diversity is of the people who make their programmes you will receive a shrug of the shoulders.

The workers in television crews (like the vast majority of nominees and winners at the Craft awards) are so-called “freelance”.  This is a peculiar term.  It isn’t recognised by HMRC. What it usually means is that these workers are self-employed, taking on contracts production by production (another vital reason why the release of programme-level data is needed).

We are really talking about a casualised workforce. No job security, little protection from unfair practices, and a complete reliance on informal networks (ie who you know). As David puts it in his lecture, these informal forms of recruitment “favour those with soft-skills and backgrounds and interests like those doing the recruiting” as well as making “work in our industry just too risky for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds”.

Ofcom, the industry regulator, takes no responsibility for freelance workers. They have interpreted their statutory duty as stopping at the doors of the broadcasters, and therefore have no interest in the treatment of those working for independent production companies. This narrow interpretation of their statutory duty means the freelance workforce remains unprotected.

What figures we do have present an alarming picture for black freelancers in the industry.

Ofcom did publish an incomplete set of figures for freelancers working in television in 2017 and 2019 with the 2019 figures showing that just 2% of freelancers were Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME).

This tallies with other research, including that from Dr Dave O’Brien at Edinburgh University, which – drawing on surveys from the Office for National Statistics – show the number of BAME workers in film, television and radio to be 4.2%.

Falling number of BAME workers in TV

The last survey from Creative Skillset (the quango now renamed ScreenSkills and responsible for industry training) showed that the number of BAME workers in television fell by 31% between 2005 and 2012.

Black workers in the industry recognise these figures. As David Olusoga says, “one of my overwhelming memories looking back at 20 years in television is of loneliness”.

We are accustomed to being the only black crew member on a production. To rub salt into the wounds, this problem only gets worse the higher up one climbs. The “head of department” roles –ie  the roles recognised by BAFTA in the Craft Awards – writer, director, director of photography, production designer, costume, hair and make-up, editor and head of sound – are almost completely white.

It is therefore quite logical that the Craft Awards ceremonies look the way they do. It comes as no surprise to any black crew members looking on (and we are invariably looking on).

Something that comes as a surprise, however, is no one at the awards ceremonies appears to be all that bothered by the lack of diversity.

The gender balance in 2018 wasn’t very good (only 25 of the crew recognised were women), but you might have thought that a roomful of white people – the cream of UK talent – may have resulted in some pause for reflection?

The truth however is that it probably didn’t occur to many of the participants that this was odd, given that their usual workplaces contain exactly this lack of diversity. Whiteness in the film and television world is the norm, and this normalisation has existed for some time.

Even the one black crew member recognised at the 2018 ceremony was not a cause for celebration, but instead a moment of sadness.  BAFTA always takes time to commemorate those notable TV professionals who have died in the last year.

Of the 40 honoured this year, the 39th was producer and Coronation Street director Victor Adebodun, who died at 33.  In as much as Black and Minority Ethnic television professionals make up a collective – which we need to – it can ill afford such an untimely loss.

What can be done? 

To be clear, the problems highlighted by the Craft Awards are not of BAFTA’s making, and  the organisers are attempting to redress the balance by inviting a number of black people to give out the awards. BAFTA could make a start, however, by at least releasing the equality monitoring data of the entries each year.

More importantly, however, the UK TV industry must come clean and acknowledge it is structurally racist. As David Olusoga puts it, “it is an industry that in many ways is a perfect case study of the structural nature of racism”.

It must acknowledge the paradox that ceremonies like the BAFTA Craft Awards demonstrate the industry is not a meritocracy. However talented and hard-working the winners are, the industry must admit that equally talented and hard-working people are being denied access because of race and class.

If the industry is serious about changing things it must, at a minimum, release equality monitoring data at programme level. As the Federation of Entertainment Unions continue to argue, only by doing this will the industry be able to expose where racist hiring practices are at their worst and begin to do something about it.

Agents must come clean about the diversity of the people on their books, and the relative success they have in securing decent employment for their clients.

Black workers in the industry must be properly supported by ScreenSkills. Too much of the training necessary to stay at the top of the industry is accessed through informal networks, and to counter this ScreenSkills should provide Black and Minority Ethnic workers with access to a career-long programme of continuous professional development.

Black television workers do not want pity, they want jobs.  Anything less than taking the steps suggested above will merely result in more handwringing, and a few years down the line another Black survivor of the industry will deliver another MacTaggart lecture similar in substance to Michaela Coel’s and David Olusoga’s.

If the industry is serious in tackling the problem of structural racism it would sign up to these concrete proposals immediately. The tools to effect meaningful change are at hand.  All that is lacking is the will to make this change.

Craft Award ceremonies are a chance to lift the lid on UK television production. What they reveal is a glitter that is oh so white.