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Is the BBC doing enough for black audiences?

HEADLINER: Idris Elba plays the lead role in BBC hit show Luther

A DECISION to scrap a BBC podcast focusing on African Caribbean news has raised fresh questions about the quality of media coverage black Britain is receiving from the national broadcaster.

The UK Black podcast contained highlights from shows aimed at black audiences broadcast across 11 different regional radio stations.

Listeners could learn about successful black-owned enterprises in Derby thanks to presenter Devon Daley or about the latest black sporting star in Northampton through host Mike Dean.

But from January 2013, the radio shows were no longer available for download via podcast from the main BBC website. Instead, the various programmes have been collated and now appear on a different section of the BBC website, but can no longer be downloaded.

OVERVIEW

Avid listener, Erica Sebastien, 29, said: “I loved to listen (to the UK Black podcasts). It gave me a great overview of what was happening in our community across the country.”

She said the changes risked reducing its accessibility to fans.

“It was very convenient to listen to the podcasts while I was commuting or at the gym, but the changes will make it much more difficult,” Sebastien added, pointing out that “I went to the website and it simply said it was unavailable. I was really confused. The BBC gave no explanation. It makes me wonder if they value us as an audience.”

The UK Black radio shows have also been moved from their original scheduled slots, from between 4-7pm on a Sunday, to a less prominent time for audiences between 8-10pm.

At the time of the changes, David Holdsworth, controller of the BBC English regions, said: “Serving different and diverse audiences is at the heart of local radio and we are investing in our English language programmes for African Caribbean audiences, strengthening our journalism and ensuring that issues affecting all our audiences are reflected in peak time output.”

Despite Holdsworth’s assurances, the move has intensified claims that the broadcaster is watering down its overall coverage of black Britain.

In 2012, the BBC ruled out bringing back iconic black sitcom The Real McCoy following a campaign from The Voice.

The cult comedy, starring Robbie Gee and Meera Syal, had a five-series run and, 17 years after leaving our screens, still attracts more than half a million views on YouTube.

However, the BBC refused to even release the sitcom on DVD, citing the lack of a “big enough market.”

It was seen as a major blow considering that the last major series devoted to the black experience The Crouches was poorly received by critics.

The BBC has also been criticised over the lack of black representation on hardcore news programmes such as Newsnight.


DISAPPEARED: Listeners are angry that the UK Black podcast has been scrapped

When issues surrounding racism tensions are brought to the fore, so are ‘experts’ from the African Caribbean community to talk about it.

Yet, black academics and theorists – some of the most respected in the country – are not regularly asked for their view on fiscal budget reports, rises in house prices or foreign wars.

Veteran broadcaster Alex Pascall, former presenter of the BBC’s Black Londoners radio show which was broadcast from 1974 to 1988 said: “The largest problem with the BBC and other British major broadcasters is that they are ‘exclusively exclusive’.

INVOLVEMENT

“The rules say they should have more black involvement but they shouldn’t just have us [because they have to], they should embrace and talk to us.”

Pascall added: “They don’t really give us what is needed. Black Londoners had an agenda of its own which placed us in the media. I’ve never been convinced that the BBC wanted us there. [Their researchers] only call me about race issues for programmes on the BBC. I told them I’m not taking part, but I will for non-race issues. How many black faces were asked for their insight about Margaret Thatcher when she passed?”

The BBC has a duty to provide accurate representations in its programming.”

Black people represent 10 per cent of all TV viewers, according to figures on the BBC website, and contribute more than £250 million to the broadcaster’s coffers in licence fees.

In 100 years’ time when people want to know what society was like in 21st century Britain, researchers will dig deep into the television archives of the BBC as part of their studies.

And in this era of “multiculturalism” – the buzzword during the London 2012 Olympic Games – the organisation’s programming should mirror the multi-layered societies across Britain.

However, the BBC is under financial pressure with the corporation’s funds being cut by £1.3 billion by 2017 and includes the loss of up to 2,000 jobs.

But on a positive note, it has produced some successful dramas production with black actors in the lead roles, most notably, The Line of Duty starring Lennie James – BBC2’s best-performing drama series in 10 years with a consolidated audience of 4.1 million viewers.

Also east Londoner Idris Elba was the lead character in BBC cop drama Luther for which he won a Golden Globe award.

But even he has felt frustrated by the BBC, and other major broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4, for failing to produce quality roles for black and mixed race actors and actresses in Britain.

Elba was forced to travel across the Atlantic, where he rose to fame playing the role of Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell in HBO’s The Wire.

Other black British actors who have also found success in the US include David Harewood and David Oyelowo.

The lack of opportunities also means black writers, presenters and directors are opting to take their talents online for independent projects.

It could hurt the pockets of the major corporations as well as limit coverage for the African Caribbean audience. So what are we paying our licence fee for again?

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