Some of Britain’s best-loved and most watched programmes, including EastEnders and Coronation Street, are to be monitored for their ethnic, gender and sexual orientation diversity as part of a new scheme to be rolled out eventually across the whole of British television.
The BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Sky are all taking part in Project Diamond, a scheme which will gather data on the gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity of all key staff working in television production, from the actors to the sound technicians.
All of the information will be fed into an encrypted computer system which will anonymise the data and allow trends to be monitored. The organisation behind Project Diamond, the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) has said that initial data will present a broad picture analysis, but it hopes to be able to monitor individual shows within time, The Guardian has reported.
The BBC’s flagship soap opera EastEnders, which depicts life in the East End of London, came under fire two years ago when it was noted that its cast of characters were almost twice as white as, and considerably younger than, the real population of East London. At the time Diane Coyle, the acting head of the BBC Trust, said it would be “daft” to make the show a “perfect replica” of the real East End, but added it was “important to ask whether the BBC can do more in its popular output to provide an authentic portrayal of life in modern Britain”.
At around the same time, actor and comedian Lenny Henry called for legislated targets on the number of black and minority ethnic (BAME) people in television and extra funding for BAME projects.
“The BBC charter promises to represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities. BAMEs are an integral part of Great Britain’s communities – we deserve to be represented too. I want to hold our leaders to account,” Henry said, in a speech which inspired the creation of Project Diamond.
Speaking ahead of the launch of Project Diamond at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, CDN executive director Amanda Ariss claimed that the project would help to “create an accurate picture” of the level of diversity within British television.
“This is a big tool to help us speed up diversity and do it better,” she said. “Everyone agrees the more detailed the data is the stronger the driver for action is.”
As a means to ensuring representation, Project Diamond will be triggered as soon as any new program is commissioned, with all crew members sent questionnaires asking for personal information including sexual orientation and gender identification. If a crew member’s details are already on the system they will be updated.
It is not clear whether crew members can opt out of the process. Some actors are reported to have been uneasy about the process as they did not want casting directors being able to access personal information, but CDN is adamant that the encryption technology is now at a point at which people feel happy sharing their information.
Drama, entertainment and factual shows, which together encompass some of the most popular programs on British television, will be the first to be surveyed, with initial data due to be released in around six months time. News and sports programs are set to be surveyed in a second stage next year.
“The whole point of Diamond is about transparency,” Ariss said. “It’s unprecedented the amount of details that will be in the public domain – it’s far more than for any other industry.”
She added that although some producers and the union Bectu had wanted to see diversity data on individual programmes, the Project does not yet have the resources to monitor any but the most popular programs individually at this stage.
That is “one of the things we are looking at the moment,” she said.
“We’re going to be monitoring pretty much every UK programme for all the channels who are UK broadcasters … we think it will be very difficult to report at programme level with other than a very small selection.”
The Conservative government’s new minister for digital and culture Matt Hancock welcomed the roll out of the project, saying: “Whilst BAME representation in the UK’s creative industries is increasing twice as fast as the rest of the UK workplace, we want to see greater social mobility and diversity across this and across the arts sector.
“The launch of project Diamond is a clear example of how the UK’s broadcasting industry is leading the way. Together with industry we want to see diversity continuing to improve both on and off screen, and this world-first initiative is a step forward to achieving that.”
CND doesn’t just have plans to monitor the whole of Britain’s television industry – it wants to take the Project abroad too. CDN chair John McVay, who is also chief executive of producers’ alliance Pact, said: “Diamond is an incredibly ambitious project – as far as we know no other broadcasting industry anywhere in the world has developed a cross-industry data collection and publishing process like it.”