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Freelancer support and diversity challenge came under the spotlight in the Edinburgh TV Festival’s traditional Question Time format. Here are some of the highlights.

Freelancers and working conditions

Fatamia Salaria, managing director of Naked:

“The kind of factual label I want to create is one where people feel they can come and talk about issues such as mental health and worries about losing their job and give security to them. If I created a pool of freelancers, balanced by age, range and gender, where we can put people in touch with one another once their three- or six-month contract is over, if we can flag up opportunities within our labels, we have a network we can replicate at broadcasters as well.”

Jane Turton, chief executive, All3Media:

“Our talent team is focused on both freelancers and employees, helping them through some very privately difficult times where the company is aware people are struggling and trying to help through that. One of our shareholders helped us offer money that was not repayable during hardship. We paid our own furlough in the UK, which was appropriate for a company with two strong shareholders behind us.”

Does the industry need to be much more flexible in how it hires and employs people?

Jane Turton:

“We are already aware that we have to become more flexible and I hope we are responding to that. Our structure is helpful – devolved labels where the relationship with people work for you is intimate - more local relationship than central. The TV industry is talent-based: no good people means no good shows. We have to attract and make sure we keep our people incentivised and motivated – if we don’t have them, we go out of business.”

Clare Sumner, BBC director of policy:

“There is such a big contingent of freelancers and fixed contract workers. We financially supported those people as much as we could; we paid some furloughing and set up hardship fund. Networks are really powerful - that’s why the Coalition for Change is going to be so important. We should be proud that we’ve got productions back up; we now need the government to press the green button on the insurance fund, which is mission-critical for getting people back to work, especially freelancers.”

Damian Collins MP:

“We must make sure the financial support is not just for institutions – is there the support for a TV production company to commit to location work for a new programme if there’s another lockdown? We need to encourage people to risk the outlay. Small indies will need proper government help – maybe the government being the insurer of last resort.”

David Olusoga’s claim of a ‘lost generation’ of black talent – and what to do now

Fatamia Salaria:
“I hadn’t been to university and didn’t even know what ‘Oxbridge’ meant. But I am one of those survivors. Like the police service we are brilliant at getting footsoldiers in but in the mid-ranking jobs we have failed.

“People like me see white people being promoted and piggybacking off each other and think ‘Why do I have to work doubly hard to get ahead?’. London has an Asian mayor, Bristol a black one. When is someone going to come to TV offices and say 'come on guys, lets do this'?”

Clare Sumner:

“We are very focused on leadership and investment in content and portrayal. David finished with a note of optimism: if we don’t get this right now there are no excuses. All of this is a journey we’re on. When we look around, we know we haven’t got this right. It’s a debate around society in general. The story’s the same for all of us: we want the best talent and David was right to challenge us in his incredibly brave and powerful speech.”

Jane Turton:

“It’s now for us to make sure it really is a moment of change. Ongoing career development is even more important than recruitment – it’s about culture, mentorship, all sorts of things. Have to make sure we keep our diverse talent, not just at All3Media but in the industry – how do we give them the chances, how do we make them more confident?”

Damian Collins:

“Ofcom could look at diversity as part of the checks it has to make in terms of distinctiveness and commitment to regions – by failing in diversity, are we failing to tell the story of the nation?

“Sometimes we focus just on overall statistics but controllers are important because they make the decisions about what gets made. Television, like many other professions, has become quite middle class and it needs to go into other communities. If people can’t become programme makers through a big company, they’ll do it on YouTube or podcasts.”

Ben McOwen Wilson, managing director, YouTube UK:

“We reflect back to the industry who is successful when there aren’t any gatekeepers. The talent that rises to the top on YouTube is a richer and more diverse reflection of modern Britain, and is a really good mirror for television to hold up to itself.”

Jane Turton:
“We had a phenomenal turnout for a series of remote sessions we held across the All3Media group. It was incredibly informative – we were hearing stuff, possibly for the first time, from people who aren’t normally in the room making the decisions. That’s been the most useful thing that’s come out of Black Lives Matter too. Action has to follow- but I hope that will partly in their hands.”

BBC controversies

Clare Sumner:

[On the BBC news report featuring the n-word] We were very clear we got that wrong and apologised and strengthened our processes. We should have come out with that sooner, that’s always the challenge at the BBC. We have to reflect and represent the debate that’s going on around us. Diversity in top teams does lead to diversity in decision making.

Fatima Salaria:

“The people in those rooms making those decisions don’t look like me, they don’t look like modern Britain. They all live in the same postcodes and go on the same holidays. I find it incredibly patronising.”

Clare Sumner:

“Our senior leadership teams have two representatives and advisors to increase the diversity in the room. Representation is improving and we make sure we hear those diverse voices. We’ve engaged with our staff across the piece about Black Lives Matter. The difficulty for the BBC is that we’re not a campaigning organisation, but one of our greatest strengths is that we report independently and accurately.”

Damian Collins:

“On Rule Britannia, the BBC’s position is really unclear. What do licence fee payers think? There was no great campaign for it to go. The Proms represents a great range of music with a traditional finale and that’s something we should celebrate. Who’s saying we shouldn’t do it? Wherever you sit in the debate, it feels like this has come from leftfield. The BBC is bringing it back next year, so is decision this year wrong or right? It’s a mess.”

Fatima Salaria:

“Imagine a gospel choir singing those words - how would that feel to our audience? We’ve had these conversations around statues and look what’s happened. It’s good that history is a living thing and the time might have come for us to change and consider different viewpoints.”

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