More than 2000 leading figures, many of them from a BAME background, have asked the BBC to provide “specific written reassurance” that diversity campaigner Marcus Ryder was not barred from taking a top job on impartiality grounds.
Lenny Henry, Afua Hirsch, The TV Collective's Simone Pennant and production community figures including Pat Younge, Lucy Pilkington, Sohail Shah and Narinda Minhas are among the signatories to an open letter addressed to BBC chair Richard Sharp, with further signatures invited.
Douglas Road Productions chief Angela Ferreira co-ordinated the letter, which is backed by Adeel Amini and The TV Mindset.
It describes the “chilling effect” on journalists and production staff of colour of a string of press reports alleging that BBC bosses, including director general Tim Davie, ruled Ryder from the running to be executive editor of Newsbeat – including oversight of moving the radio news programme from London to Birmingham - and the Asian Network over concerns that he might not be editorially impartial.
Saying the issue goes far beyond any one appointment, the signatories call on Sharpe to address concerns that “advocating for our industry to be more diverse will not disadvantage or block people from being employed by the BBC, but will be seen as a positive in line with the BBC’s stated aims and values”.
The letter states: “We do not believe championing diversity and inclusion, fighting racism and making our profession a more equitable place for people to work should ever be viewed as an impartiality issue.”
According to The Independent, Davie is to meet Ryder, who has previously worked for the corporation in an eight-year stint as head of current affairs programming for BBC Scotland, on 9 November, after Ryder collects his MBE for services to diversity in Media.
Ryder, who is currently visiting professor at the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, has said he was approached for the role and had three rounds of interviews. After the third of these, in which he was asked about impartiality and social media, he heard nothing more about the position, which has now gone to internal candidate Danielle Dwyer on a 12-month contract.