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Channel 4 has pledged that all new commissions for its ‘Black to Front’ day will aim for 100% off-screen Black representation, as a study of its plans suggest meaningful change will only come if it becomes an annual event.

The broadcaster has earmarked a day in September for the initiative, in which a day’s schedule will be fronted by Black talent and contributors. As well as showcasing Black creative talent on- and off-camera, it is intended to help drive systematic long-term change across the industry.

The day will feature four original commissions: ITV Studios’ reboot of The Big Breakfast fronted by Mo Gilligan, plus docu-series Highlife - a co-pro between Optomen/Cr8tive Row - and a comedy show and a topical chat format that have yet to be announced.

On established commissions, such as specials of Countdown, Come Dine With Me and Gogglebox, C4 vowed to support indies to “maximise” Black representation off-camera.

Together, they reflect the under-representation of Black talent in genres such as comedy and lifestyle. In April, C4 said it had received more than 800 CVs and applications for the shows.

A report from the Sir Lenny Henry Centre, commissioned by C4 deputy director of programmes and prepared by Marcus Ryder, Stevie Marsden and Carlene Marshall-King, recommended a minimum target of 20% on these shows.

“Anything less than this may have the effect of looking too unambitious for a day dedicated to Black representation,” it states.

Where appropriate Black talent cannot be identified for a role, the authors said C4 should publish the reasons. Additionally, it should record the ethnicity of all staff and freelancers that leave and join the broadcaster in the run-up to the day and rigorously ask about reasons for leaving in exit interviews.

Avoiding tokenism

With on-screen credits vital to furthering the careers of these under-represented creatives, C4 should ensure all shows credit staff in full, it argued. Meanwhile, to minimise costs and showcase the depth of Black talent, producers should move people around to ensure productions are fully diverse, even if only temporarily.

“Maximising diversity off screen will help Channel 4 avoid criticism of tokenism and ghettoising black talent of only being able to work on ‘black issues’ or on the ‘Black day’,” the report stated.

It also stressed that C4 must not confused ‘Black’ with ‘BAME’, 'non-white' or 'PoC' and to keep the focus of this day narrowed to one ethnic minority, while looking into comparable options for other groups – likening the distinction to ‘out-of-London’ and national descriptors such as ‘Scottish’.

The authors advised C4 to explore how willing individuals are to stating their ethnicity in published data, to more accurately record the diversity of organisations and productions.

Long-term gains

The authors said C4 should make it an annual event to establish it as “a long-standing industry game-changer”, distinguishing it from previous efforts on ITV’s Loose Women and Lenny Henry’s one-off editorship of Radio 4’s Today programme.

On the report’s recommendation, C4 will ask indies supplying shows to provide the percentage of staff spend that comprises talent from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background, and will strive to ensure that C4 commissioners and staff with editorial input are Black where possible.

The report called on C4 to then use this precedent to extend this demand to all of its productions.

C4 is also funding “progression placements” on at least 10 of the shows that will air, with help in stepping up to more senior roles and continue mentoring beyond the day.

In general, the broadcaster said it would monitor its commitments, :to ensure all learnings and data are recorded and used to inform policy going forward through a manifesto of change to ensure systemic change”.

One aspect of this identified in the report, is for C4 to track how staff were found and recruited and map out best practice for the rest of the industry to use.

“Where Black staff are not hired, C4 needs to understand why and either work with the company to improve their recruitment processes and / or recognise where there may be shortages in Black talent and skills and then work to develop training and pipeline programmes,” it stated.

Key staff

C4's Black to Front day was conceived by  commissioning editors Vivienne Molokwu and Shaminder Nahal, who will work across the day with project co-ordinator Melissa Cousins.

The core team also includes head of creative diversity Babita Bahal and director of commissioning operations Emma Hardy.


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