Aziz Rashid, Head of Regional and Local Programmes, BBC North West answers questions from an invited audience.
As the BBC makes its move to MediaCity and new technologies emerge, how can those working with vulnerable groups and tackling the most challenging issues, work with the BBC to get their message across and win proper representation? What challenges does this pose for the BBC itself? and how can these be overcome?
This event took place on Friday 29th of October 2010, a transcript and accessible, sub-titled video is available below.
I’m Aziz. I was invited to do this. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really sure what I let myself in for, but I said to Julia, please send me some questions from people so I’ve got an idea of what it is I’m trying to answer. I have some answers to some of those questions. Some of the questions I didn’t have answers to so I’ve emailed a whole load of people this week and said, do we do this, and how do we do this, and how does this work? So I might read little bits from notes that I’ve had from various different people working in our Outreach department, working in our diversity department, and all the rest of it. I mean obviously as BBC Manager I know some of it myself.
I’ve been based in the North West for eighteen months now, I joined as head of BBC North West in March 2009. I am basically in charge of all the regional and local programming in the North West. That means two hundred and fifty staff based in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire, working on BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Radio Manchester, the websites for Liverpool, Manchester and, Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire. Also all the TV programming that goes out in the North West for regional programming, so that means North West Tonight, it means Inside Out, our weekly half hour documentary, it means Late Kick Off, which is a weekly football that runs four months a year, and The Politics Show that runs every Sunday. So I kind of work across TV, radio and the web, across the North West.
Here in Manchester there’s a lot more than that going on, Manchester is already one of the biggest, outside London department BBC, all of BBC religion programmes, radio and TV come from Manchester, lots of BBC entertainment programmes like Question of Sport, Dragons Den, University Challenge, are made in Manchester. BBC Three comedies are made in Manchester, the BBC Philharmonic is based here, we’ve got radio current affairs like File on 4 and Assignment on Radio 4 are made in Manchester. Reports for The Late Show are made by current affairs team in Manchester, so there’s a lot of other people, there’s eight hundred staff in Manchester already, and I’m in charge of about two hundred of the staff based in Manchester so there’s lots of people doing other things in Manchester. And I’m sure you’ve all heard about Salford, and about the move to Media City, so this will become the second biggest BBC Centre outside London, with two and a half thousand staff at Media City and the extra departments coming up. BBC Sport, BBC Five – Radio Five Live, all of the children’s departments, so you know, Newsround, Blue Peter, CBeebies and CBBC will all be run from Salford, and the BBC Learning Department as well, and a big chunk of our, we call it Future Media and Technology which is not a very easy to understand thing, but basically the people who do all the online and interactive stuff, a big chunk of them are coming.
So the people who are developing the new Internet TV called YouView which you will hear a lot about in the next few years, they’re coming to Manchester. The BBC, the people who build the front page of BBC Online, they’ll be based in Manchester as well.
First question actually is from Henshaws, and that’s Amanda Shilton-Godwin, but I don’t think she’s here, is that right? Anyone from Henshaws? So I will put the question in. Right so, Amanda sent this question in, she’s from Henshaws, the Society for Blind People, and she says, ‘How do you consult with blind and partially impaired people in terms of their sight, to ensure that they’re adequately represented across programming?’
Yeah, and she sort of focused particularly local, she talked about local programming and I, the simple answer to that is we do not consult locally with blind people to ensure adequate coverage of issues for blind and partially sighted people here in the North West. The way the BBC deals with all manner of diversity is that we have a central department that deals with diversity, and we have diversity policies, and each department, so my department all sorts of targets and all sorts of information to do with training around issues of diversity, so for instance the BBC’s part of broadcasting organisation.
There’s a big, it’s called the Broadcast Creative Industries Disability network, and the BBC is a part of that, and it’s a very important part of that obviously, as one of the biggest broadcasters. But on a sort of level of, what do we do ourselves on an every day basis, I’d say that we did a whole series about disability on BBC North West this year, I don’t know if any of you caught it, but basically Lord Alf Morris, thank you, called me, and this is not someone I know but I received his call about six months ago from, he was a Wythenshawe, as I say I’m new to here so I didn’t know who he was, but he phoned me up and said, ‘I sent you a book, it’s about me, my name is Lord Alf Morris, I was the MP for Wythenshawe for about twenty five years.’ And he basically told me that he had brought in the world’s first, well Britain’s first, bill for disabled people, and that was in 1970, and it was a private members bill, it wasn’t even a, you know, it wasn’t brought by any government, it was a private members bill. And he told me about that, and he sent me the book, I read it and thought, wow, that’s amazing, and we have management meetings with all my radio editors and TV editors and I just sort of said, ‘Look, this guy’s phoned me, and apparently Manchester, an MP for Manchester brought in the world’s first ever disability bill’, and one of the things he said to me on the phone which kind of caught my attention is, ‘This was the world’s first ever bill that gave rights to people with disabilities,’ and today you can go to Rwanda and you’ve got ramps to get into buildings, but this was the first bill that ever made that possible, and gave that right to people, rather than some sort of considered privilege.
And so we did a whole week of programming about it, we sort of said, ooh, who can we have to front it, and someone we’d met, an Iraq war veteran who’d been blinded during the Iraq war, and we decided to get him to front this five part TV series. Not just about blind people, it was about disabilities, about the world’s first disability act as well, so we talked about that. We interviewed Lord Morris on The Politics Show, and all the radio stations, so Radio Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, did a week of programming about that, so I suppose what I’d say is that actually we do not formally do anything with, as a part of our policy of how we operate with particular groups in the North West, but what we do as an organisation, we have an organisational structure which does take diversity really seriously, which is great, you know, I think that’s absolutely right as a public service broadcaster that we should do that, and I think the point of view the BBC comes from, which is absolutely the right point of view, is that actually everybody pays the license fee, everybody deserves to be reflected and to feel that they have a part and a say in what the BBC’s doing, and I feel passionately about that.
I think we’ve got a long way to go in a lot of areas, but having those policies within the BBC make us do things like having audio description on the iPlayer, it makes us have a signing on the News channel, it makes us have subtitling on nearly all of our programming, those policies, I don’t know how good other broadcasters are compared to us, but I’d say it’d probably be hard pressed to find a broadcaster that is better than us. That doesn’t mean we’re good enough yet, and one of the areas that the BBC’s working on at the moment is staff representation in terms of disability, and my target is five and a half percent of staff who have disabilities, and I haven’t reached that target, it’s about four and a half percent at the moment, and so that is a target for all BBC managers that we need to employ four and a half percent of our staff need to be people who have disabilities.
Is Anna here from MacIntyre? I am, yes. Oh great, Anna, now I think Aziz might have covered a bit in terms of consultation, but perhaps you want to say a bit about MacIntyre’s work and possibly follow on from that if there’s anything that you feel, how could they consult more, you know, if you feel the current way of doing it is not at all similar. Hi, my name’s Anna O’Mahony, I’m from MacIntyre which is a national charity and we support people with learning disabilities, so they’re actually based in Milton Keynes but we’re working nationally, so I came along today to ask about, how do you, who do you currently consult with and how is that consultation carried out really, and that was really from an accessibility point of view really, particularly people with a learning disability, that could be on many different levels, and how do those people get their views across, and if they have an issue about how people are represented in the media, is there a channel that they can, you know, is there a way they can channel their queries and questions that will be received in a way, and responded to in a way that those people will understand?
I think there’s different ways you can do that, obviously you can do that one-to-one, it depends if it’s directed towards a particular programme and I think if it’s directed towards a particular programme, I’d write to the programme, or you know, if it’s a complaint, complain about it. We do actually respond to all complaints within ten days, because it’s part of our corporate requirement.
But if it’s about who is having a dialogue with who, from a sort of pan BBC model, what happens is the BBC does lots of consultation with audiences so it does that in different ways. For instance, every couple of months I sit in front of a group of people who are the regional audience council, and they are part of the BBC trust, and they are members of the public who volunteered to basically examine our programmes, tell us what they think of them, and they represent the audience and that group of people across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, have to be representative of the population in terms of diversity, disability, ethnic diversity, you know, age, the whole lot. So that is one way where I here direct feedback from audiences, but that’s done across the United Kingdom.
Second thing is, obviously we do audience research, and we’ve got quite a big audience research department and they’re often looking at different issues, so occasionally the Trust will say, ‘How are you dealing with deaf people, and how do you make programmes accessible to deaf people on the BBC?’ And so we then, they’ll do a piece of consultation that is a national piece of work wherein then they’ll say to us, ‘These are the things you’re not doing, these are the things you have to improve’, and a lot of that is around people who are hard of hearing rather than completely deaf, big issues about how the BBC uses music and sound in broadcasting, and that is cascading right through the system to people who make programmes through people like me to say, actually, this is making that programme inaudible to a big chunk of the population.
When it’s with people with learning disabilities, I don’t know how good we are with that actually, I mean I have to say, that that is probably one area where I have had least direction about how do you make those programmes accessible to those people. There’s certainly some self advocate groups out there that I think would always be keen to get involved if they knew of a way to do that, so I guess maybe if we go through websites and things like that, we might. Well, I mean maybe its something I can find out for you, because I actually don’t have the answer to that, as I say, I do, as a manager of the department we are responsible for all sorts of things, we’ve got lots of targets and lots of health and safety, whatever, and I have to say that’s not one of the things, you know, I’ve done all sorts of training, you do online training about accessibility online and you know, the whole lot, and BBC’s quite good at that actually, but I don’t remember doing much on accessibility, or awareness actually, of people with learning disabilities. Because for me, for a lot of our staff, it’s actually, some of them obviously will have members of family, friends, and so they’ll have experience of that but most people may not and I think a lot of it is about educating people, people coming into contact with people, and just helping them to understand. The best way to understand is just to conduct a conversation with people and for them to tell you actually, and when we got this
Craig Lundberg to come and work with our programme teams to do this week of programming, it’s really amazing about his effect on people in the office, they learn more than they will ever learn from anything, about blind people, because they were making programmes with him, and he had to do pieces to camera, walking pieces, we even did walking pieces to camera with him, and the way they had to shoot that, and talk to him, and it just made them appreciate so much about what his everyday life was like actually, and what he could do given the right opportunity and conversation, and that involved in doing live studio interviews with us, and bringing his dog into studios, and you did watch it and think, when was the last time we had someone with a dog, a blind person with a dog, in the studio? It was like, I don’t think I’ve seen that in a year of watching the programme, and I wasn’t the only person who thought that, the programme makers, the people who worked on the programme, thought that themselves and realised that actually, they’re not doing it deliberately, but actually, you make choices everyday about what’s easy to do and how you get stuff on air, and you don’t realise that you’re actually excluding people by, ’cause it’s convenient, and not because you thought you were deliberately doing it, and it really helped people to understand a bit more about that, just by doing it actually.
I think that is crucial what you said there about excluding people without intending to, I mean for instance, Amanda and I, from Venture Arts, have done several pieces with BBC local radio together, haven’t we? Do you want to say something about Venture Arts. Well, Venture Arts again works with people who have a learning disability but working on visual arts projects, we sort of work towards big exhibitions and stuff. But my problem, I think, is actually I think when we’ve talked to certainly TV, that people might have a, the programmers have an issue with how to represent people with learning disabilities in the media, really. It is quite a difficult one to juggle, to make sure that you’re treating people equally, fairly, and that they’re being represented properly, and I think that could probably be done better. Taking more time, I think, isn’t it, because when we had a reporter came down to Venture Arts, and the people there who were all Venture Arts with learning disabilities, absolutely produced the most fantastic art work, you know, exhibitions at the Lowry and Manchester Art Gallery, and I know that isn’t great for radio, but we were able to describe what the pieces were, that wasn’t really the issue, but it’s about the fact that you do need more time I think, and it takes, how can you build that schedule, say somebody’s, reporters have got to do eight stories a day or whatever it is. One of them might involve a whole morning going to somewhere like Venture Arts, but as you said, the benefits are many fold, because that’s a whole learning experience for everybody involved in that programme, and it does really challenge perception, certainly I have since I’ve been to Venture Arts, it’s fantastic for this. It’s really about more time, how that can be built in.
I think that there’s a long process of education when it comes to all of this stuff, whether it be ethnic diversity, whether it be religion or sexuality. We’re on a journey, aren’t we? The BBC’s on the same journey that the nation is on, you know, let’s put this into context here, and I think that looking at it as an organisation and as someone who works for the BBC, actually I think we’re quite far ahead of some bits of other organisations, other public services, and we’re probably behind some as well, but we’re probably behind the ones who are directly involved in those groups, and who know much better than we do about what is possible, what’s not possible, and whether we’re covering people or not, because as I say sometimes you’re missing stuff because you don’t know about it, and that’s not a good enough excuse obviously, and that’s why people like me come to events like this, to have conversations with people like you. We have to open ourselves up to everybody because as I said, we’re taking money from everybody and we have to represent everybody. We have a responsibility to do that. But we are on a national journey in all sorts of ways and we see it within Great Britain and it’s the sensibilities and it’s progress in terms of having a fairer and more equal society.
Chris Hammond has come up with a great suggestion about champions. Chris is from Full Circle Arts, do you want to say a bit about your organisation? Yeah, I’m from Full Circle Arts, we’re a disabled led inclusive arts company, in that all our management and our board are disabled people. I’ll get on with the question so I don’t ramble ’cause I’ve got lots to add to what has previously gone, but that’s me. So anyway, I’ll just read it out. Does, or could, the BBC offer a named contact, quality champion or a mentor, who could advocate within departments on our stories. We often have good human interest stories to tell, but we need help negotiating the press release files, and the maze of reporters and journalists, so that we can get the story at the right place at the right time. It seems to me, very often, because you can try and put the story out there, but if it’s not something that the BBC are focusing on like you just said about Alf Morris, if we know that something like that is going ahead, there’s loads we can add around that, and I did see the series and it is good, but it seems a sort of misconnect in getting things in the right place at the right time, in a huge organisation, huge groups like the BBC. Can you tell me some of those local connections for us to be able to-
Well, I suppose, we were discussing this earlier actually and I was saying maybe a useful thing at the end of this is maybe for me to go back to my teams and say actually, ‘Who are the contact people?’ and for particular radio stations and for particular programmes that we do, you know. So what’s the email address, what’s the name, what’s the contact number, and maybe that’s, I mean some of you will already know that, but maybe some of you don’t know who the critical person to contact is.
I think that you’re right, big organisation. I’d say at the local level there’s not, I mean there’s forty people that work for Radio Manchester, that includes the presenters, it includes the person who does the contracts for everybody, it includes every journalist and that’s forty people presenting and producing a twenty four hour radio station including all the sports coverage we do and the rest of it. So actually it’s not a lot of people, and it’s probably, once you’re in, it’s easier, and I think I understand what you’re saying, it can feel like an exclusive club and very difficult to penetrate that outer shell. What I’d say is actually I can help by maybe getting everybody a set of names and contact details and email addresses.
I think what I’d say to you is bear in mind that we are being contacted by a lot of people every day and with great stories like yours, and so sometimes we can’t do everything, so a programme for instance like North West Tonight, the longest bit of programming is a half hour six thirty programme. It does have eleven news bulletins a day, but during breakfast they’re three minutes long and at lunchtime it’s fifteen minutes and at six thirty it’s half an hour, so a programme like North West Tonight is looking across a population of seven million people, two huge conurbations of Merseyside and Greater Manchester, and there are huge news stories going on and so they may have less room for some of these stories.
Our local radio station on the other hand are on from six o’clock in the morning with a three hour breakfast show, they have lunchtime phone ins, they have a lifestyle and human interest stories all through the day, so local radio may be a much better place for these kinds of stories.
Yeah, I sort of agreed with all that on the news front and so on. I’m sort of talking beyond that, I mean we were talking about representation earlier, so for instance, you were talking earlier about learning disabled people. We work with three groups in Salford alone of learning disabled people who sort of work in drama, drama and dance mainly, quite prolific groups. Now, if this sort of programming or drama, because actually the representation of disabled people is actually picking up more and more within drama on BBC and Channel 4 predominantly, but also ITV are starting to get there now, and it’s that representation, seeing a reflection of yourself in programmes. So it’s not just the news scene, it’s those contacts, and what I was meaning in terms of, we’ve all done that when we get a press release and you go, oh yeah yeah, we’ve got this contact and we’ve got this contact, and in fact we’ve even got personal contacts within BBC, we’ve had four of our disabled people, artists, and so on, who have worked on the BBC Extend scheme, so have been apprentices at the BBC.
And that’s part of, you know, I mean that’s, obviously we run that scheme as well, and that’s, for people who don’t know it, it’s a scheme that’s partly funded by the BBC, partly government funded, that helps people with disabilities to do a six month attachment, six month work experience basically, with us, in different departments, and that’s one of the ways, I mean it’s hit and miss, sometimes you get people who flourish and sometimes it’s very difficult for some of the people, but if you’ve succeeded in doing that, you should be pretty pleased that you’ve got four people, that sounds pretty good to me!
Yeah, well, it’s also because they’re good. But also I’m just thinking of that sort of, I mean we applied for the Connect and Create, Create and Connect, get it the wrong way right, but obviously we were much too small an organisation. They loved what we did but were quite small in taking on the number of volunteers, but just having that sort of, a named person, I think the term ‘mentor’ and ‘champion’, because we do mentoring, but actually we’d quite like to have a mentor within the BBC, or a champion within the BBC, who we can just turn to, and they’ve got that story in their mind, it’s that human contact, rather than something was said and landing on a pile.
Have you had any connection with people that run the BBC Outreach for the North West, people like Margaret Burgin, or have you heard of Ernestina Craig Hall? No. Because I mean, we do lots of bits of Outreach, I mean I just got an email today that said, ‘Do you want to volunteer to help a young person develop their own website?’ These emails are sent to our staff every day, and we get a really good take off as well. There is a big encouragement of staff members, and actually for some people you don’t have to encourage them, they want to get involved in where they live, they want to be part of their wider community, and so we’re pushing at an open door. For the rest of the staff it’s about saying, actually, did you know you could do this stuff, so that can be anything from a person with learning disabilities, to a person who wants to, or a company who want to design a website for whatever reason it may be. And so, there’s formal and informal ways that we do stuff, I mean Extend is obviously a very formal thing, and then there’s the informal process where Connect and Create basically, they’re the ones who, they talk to loads of different charities in the North West and every week they send an email out and say, do you want to make a film for this organisation? And I’m not, I’m still not sure, I mean, it sounds like you want me to get an advocate for your organisation.
Just a contact, it doesn’t matter, I just often think, well not just my organisation, I think that that sort of roots in the community because you’re going to have a lot of staff who are moving up from London, either willingly or unwillingly, and those roots in the community, you said it yourself earlier when you were talking about the Lord Morris story, and you were saying, and we looked for someone we knew who wold, and it’s that sort of contact, it’s that story in someone’s head, so even if it’s only something that that person within BBC, the volunteer, when things are going right, rather than it just being, do you want to make a film, it might just me somebody who has contact with an organisation twice or three times a year, just to keep it in the red, then when the story comes up you think, ‘Ah! I know, we could get in touch with Venture Arts or (INAUDIBLE)’, that sort of thing, I’m talking about a connection.
No, I hear what you’re saying, and it may be something I take away and have a little think about and discuss with either my management team, or actually more than that with, actually I’ve just noticed Margaret’s here with the BBC Outreach team. Oh that’s good, I just wrote Margaret’s name down! Because maybe there’s a way that we can actually have a group of people that we know are doing this work that we can naturally, actually rather than picking the one we happen to know, to send a note out to everyone to say, any suggestions? So we’re picking from a wider pool than the ones that we happen to know because of the work, because of the ones we’ve come into contact with before. I think you can perpetuate that, and I hear what you’re saying, if you’ve been used to working with a particular group, and you want a particular kind of thing, you go back to them because you know they were good. Sure. And actually, we need to do better than that, don’t we?
Could you say something about Outreach, the Outreach, you or Margaret, just for the people who are not entirely sure of the work they do, and how it might feed back into programme content? Oh god, Margaret, do you want to say something?
I can do, yes. I mean, Ernestina is in London because she’s working with a lot of people who are about to move up, and I’m based up here, but I have to say I don’t have a team, and there’s only one of me, and I do do other projects as well, so I’m really quite stretched. One of the things I’m doing in Salford is a database of organisations and you’re already on it, because I met somebody from your organisation at something I went to, but having said that just in Salford alone, I’ve now got a list of something like a hundred organisations, do you see what I mean? Yeah sure. So I have got those lists and we are sending out communications to various different lists, but I don’t know how we do better than that without more staff, really, and we do include people, and organisations like yours can have a free tour of Oxford Road, have you done it already? Yes, once. Well I organise those, and then I’ve got a scheme that’s coming out, we’re sending out a leaflet explaining what the BBC’s doing in Salford, we’re putting that through every door in Salford next week, and on that, anybody in the Salford postcode can come and have a free tour, but there’s going to be a lot more community involvement but we haven’t got any staff there yet. All of a sudden 2,300 people will move, and I’m doing a list of volunteering opportunities for our staff within that Salford community as well, something else I’m working on, but if there’s anything else I can do that would be useful to all of you, then you need to tell me. Sure yes, and it wasn’t a criticism at all. No. Hey listen, as I say, we’re on a journey actually, and we want to be better, that’s why we come to meetings like this to find out what more we can do.
Amanda, you had a question about the move to Media City, didn’t you? I did, yes. Amanda from Venture Arts. What was it? Should I read it to you? No, go on. It was actually to ask first of all, with the recent spending review and the cuts to the BBC, whether that’s going to affect the move to Media City, or if you’re downsizing at all, and then whether that’s going to affect, have a knock on effect on local programming.
Okay, what I’d say is that the BBC has had the license fee frozen until the end of this charter, we get a charter for ten years, and we get a license fee deal for half of that, and you have to negotiate the next half, well we’ve just negotiated the next half there into freeze, but it’s also given the BBC responsibility for big chunks of programming that we didn’t have responsibility before, which adds up to about another four hundred million pounds, so effectively we’ve had a sixteen percent cut in the license fee. Now that is not as big a cut as many organisations, probably some in this room, and it’s not as big a cut as local councils have had to take, arts councils has taken a hit of twenty nine percent.
So in the grand scheme of things, it’s a tough deal for us because it means we have to make savings of sixteen percent, but I think most of the, maybe a lot of our staff may not think this, but certainly as managers we think actually we’ve got a guaranteed income for the next six years and we know what it’s going to be and I bet there’s probably no one in this room that can say that. So for me, from a manager’s perspective who has to manage budgets and staff and programming hours and still deliver my services, I’m glad that we know what it’s going to be now, and that it’s not as bad as we thought it could have been, ’cause there were all sorts of suggestions out there that it could be twenty five percent.
What does that mean for Salford? Actually, the BBC made a commitment to move a certain number of post to Salford, and it has to do that, it’s legally required, they signed a document that said it would move one thousand five hundred posts to Salford, and eight hundred posts from (INAUDIBLE). Well, it didn’t say how many posts but it said the posts in Manchester that exist here had to be moved, and so that’s two thousand three hundred posts, two thousand three hundred posts will move to Salford, and part of the reason you may have noticed this year that the BBC announced that BBC Breakfast was going to be coming to Salford as well, so BBC One programme three hours a day, and everyone said, what on earth are you doing announcing this suddenly, I thought you’d said it was Four, it was Five Live, it was Chorlton, but the reason we did it is because during the time that was announced to now, those departments have reduced by four hundred, and they had to replace them with another four hundred people, so it wasn’t just Breakfast, we’re moving extra people from marketing and audiences, we’re moving people from our digital media department, we’re moving people from learning, the whole learning department now is moving, it was just half of it.
So actually the reduction of the BBC meant the department’s promise would have fulfilled one thousand five hundred new posts, but suddenly it was down to one thousand one hundred, one thousand two hundred, and that’s why those extra posts were announced this year, because the BBC had promised a figure, and not the departments. So from the point of view of the north west, that’s fantastic actually, and I noticed your little comment saying, if people are moving willingly or not. Don’t believe what you hear in the London media! It’s bollocks, okay? It is. We need to look at this from a Northern perspective, this is fantastic.
There are people in London who want to say this is going to be a disaster, what on earth are people doing moving departments to Manchester. Manchester has been the centre of huge creative industries in the past, Barnardo have been there and done that actually, and the BBC will be, once again, bringing great creative businesses to the North West. I have absolutely no fear that they will be really successful and that will be fantastic, and there are very good reasons why people can’t move. If you ask one thousand five hundred people in Oxford Road if they could move to London, I daresay half of them wouldn’t, because of lots of different reasons, and for one or two of them it’s because they love living in Manchester and there’s nothing wrong with that actually, and by the same token there’s nothing wrong with wanting to live in London if that’s where you are, and where your parents are, where your family are.
I think that it’s fine, people might want to live in London, some people might want to live in Manchester, I just would not get upset about that actually, I think you take it on the chin, and hey, it means that seven hundred new jobs are going to be created for people across the country, hopefully for lots of people in the North West and Media City, that is fantastic, that’s got to be great for the North West. And actually let’s look at it from the North West perspective and not from London centric media view of the world, I refuse to do that. I think we know that the move to Manchester is a better one than staying in London anyway, so great really.
Simon, you’ve got a question from Barnardo’s, could you tell us? It’s about multimedia platforms. Oh yeah, sorry I’m Simon Locke, I’m department manager for Barnardo’s in Manchester. What I’m really interested in is, we develop lots of multimedia materials ourselves within the organisation, we have no issue in being able to create those. What I’m interested in with the BBC is, how do you get some film or radio to young people or communities who can’t afford a TV or can’t afford a radio, what are the ways you can take your outputs to those hard to reach communities.
Okay, straight away I’d say I’ve never really considered that there are people that are so poor that they can’t afford a TV because there’s 99% of homes in the country who have television and it’s never occurred to me that – Some people can’t afford to turn on their television, they haven’t got electricity, I’m just thinking is there any other way of how we get those that – Do you know, again I’m being perfectly honest with you, that has never been something, as I said with the learning difficulties, that’s never been something that we’ve sat and thought, what the hell are we going to do about this? To be absolutely brutal about it, if you haven’t got a TV, you’re not paying the license fee, and so actually the services that we’re delivering are for license fee payers. Now, this is about social exclusion. How would you encourage them, then, to become license fee payers if they –
Gosh, well, I have no experience of, I mean I grew up in the city of Bradford on Lumb Lane and I don’t know any family that didn’t have a TV actually, even then in the 1970s, so even the area I grew up, I don’t understand that level of social exclusion and I’m not aware of what the BBC is doing to engage with that kind of person. I mean, what I’d say is, in terms of outreach, you look at stuff that we’re doing with Margaret’s team, and Margaret says she’s one person, well actually she is, but she works in an coordination role with all our radio stations and web teams and TV teams, and one of the things we do every year is BBC school news report, we do all sorts of outreach work with different people. We’ve done a lot in Salford especially, because obviously the BBC is moving to Salford and we don’t want it to feel like an alien ship has landed in Salford, and it’s going to have nothing to do with the people who live there, because actually we want it to be different from the rest of the BBC. We want people in that immediate area and of course in Manchester and the North West to feel that this is something that theirs, and so we’re trying to engage them in their schools, and as Margaret said, we’re sending letters out to everyone. I mean, how would you engage? You sound like the expert.
No no no, I’m interested in, very interested in how we engage with young people, from Barnardo’s, I think we do quite well in some respects and poorly in others, but I’m interested in how possibly, I’ve done work with the BBC in the past. What kind of work did you do? What I’ve done in the past is made digital films, I can’t remember what the section’s called, but I’m doing a piece of work with Helen Bullough from Dragon’s Den, an art based project, so we’re engaging young people into that, and I’m very interested in the outputs that BBC produce, I think they’re of very high quality, and I suppose I’m trying to learn, really, how you might engage with young so that I can probably replicate that in Barnardo’s for our services in terms of how we engage with our customers.
I suppose what I’d say is, BBC Childrens are moving, whole departments, CBBC and all the other programmes we make for BBC Television and as a department, they are probably the best BBC department at connecting with their audience ’cause they need to be, so I mean I’d say that actually there’s an opportunity there for an organisation like Barnardo’s to be involved with CBeebies and CBBC, but at the same time we’ve got digital switchover here so anyone who’s got a TV can see CBeebies or CBBC. If they haven’t got a TV, what are they using to access the media? Are they listening to a radio, do they have a mobile phone? Well I mean, I’m not saying that all young people or families or community workers don’t have TVs, I’m just wondering what are the ways you might be trying to engage with those people who might not watch BBC, who might only ever watch cable, I’m just thinking what are the ways we could work together possibly, as you said. Well, a lot of the, I mean the BBC, one of the few areas where the BBC probably will continue with lots of gaming is in childrens because it’s about education through gaming, it’s not pure gaming, as you might see in a commercial sense, and the web is seen as the way to connect with the next generation of audience, that’s not just kids, it’s teenagers as well. If you ask a teenager, would they rather give up their mobile phone or their television, ninety five or ninety nine percent would say, you can have my TV.
Can I just say there’s a great opportunity for the young people from Barnardo’s coming up from BBC, BBC Blast are doing a whole thing later in the month I think, or later in November, late November, down in Wythenshawe, and you know, I think working with young people though, I think often it’s the hands on stuff, and doing digital, it’s actually doing, feeling, touching, getting involved, that then actually gets them involved in some of the programming and the – I mean, Blast we do for news and sport, I don’t know if people know about Blast but it’s actually a really fantastic way of engaging people, especially the sport Blast actually which we find is easier to connect with more under-represented groups of people that tend to engage with sport on a much better level than they will for, say, news Blast. But that’s a scheme that’s run up and down the country and I think that might be stopping actually, as part of our savings. It is, but you’ve got 21CC in Salford which is free to five to nineteen year olds from all over the North, free workshops.
I’d like to end up now with a question, we’ve got two people asking about lesbian and gay representation. What I would like to say is if anybody here’s got a question that hasn’t been answered, I mean those people that need to go can go, but Aziz has very kindly said he’ll stay on for a few minutes. I’m happy to stay until two if there are anymore questions. So we’ve got two from, we’ve got one from Joanne, Joanne are you here from The Lesbian and Gay Foundation? Okay, I’ll roll that into one with Peter from the Coop. Hi. Hi, right. I’ll just explain my role, the Cooperative Group, obviously a big employer in Manchester and the North West, in fact nationwide. My voluntary role is actually a community co-ordinator for our LGBT network which is called Respect. So my question, not surprisingly, and it’s really asking what is the BBC’s strategy of representation of inclusion of the LGBT people hoping society as a whole but also in the private and public sector, and also as an employer, what are your policies towards these type of people?
Well, that’s quite a lot of questions there, let me take representation first. Representation wise, the BBC did a big survey which some of you may have heard about and actually Stonewall did a survey earlier in the year as well, which wasn’t too complimentary about the BBC, so more so that it wasn’t complimentary. The BBC survey was actually, it was alright, but it had quite a lot of questions about BBC representation of gays and lesbians and what happens when the BBC does a piece of consultation, I mean it’s great that they did the consultation actually, so they asked two thousand people what they thought about it. When we do a survey like that, that then goes to the Trust who says okay, this is what the public are saying about your output, what are you going to do about it, and the Trust then has to say okay, these are some actions we need to take on the basis of this audience research that we’ve done. And to boil it down to one big action, and actually this applies to people with disabilities as well, is that there needs to be far more people who are, whose sexuality or disability is incidental to the storyline and not the storyline.
For an organisation that actually, I mean employment wise I’d say BBC are, I mean I’ve worked in various different organisations, I haven’t worked in an organisation with this many gay and lesbian people. It is a very comfortable environment to be gay or lesbian, and actually most people at work are out, and it’s comfortable for them to be out. I wouldn’t say we’ve got no problems, ’cause I think, as I say, we have normal people in the BBC and normal people can be, you know, homophobic actually, but I think, when I saw that survey, I mean I was a bit surprised by it. I thought it was a bit harsh, actually, when Stonewall said they could only find forty four seconds of BBC One output that wasn’t stereotypical, I just thought, that’s not my, I’ve watched BBC Television and how could they say that that storyline on Eastenders had only forty four seconds that wasn’t stereotypical, I didn’t understand that because I thought, I mean I thought it was really brave of the BBC to have a Muslim gay storyline in Eastenders and I thought it’ll be really interesting to see some of the audience response to this storyline. And in actual fact, they didn’t get the backlash that they were worried about from Muslim communities actually.
It was a very difficult storyline, and I thought they did it quite well actually. I mean I don’t watch Eastenders every week, but I tuned in, someone said, ‘God watch the new episode, it’s amazing’, and I didn’t think, oh that’s really stereotypical and that’s really unrepresentative, I thought it felt quite real, personally speaking. But I think the big learning from the BBC and the big thing that they have to do, and that I think the Trust is going to say, is that, can you just have people who are there because of other shorelines, not their sexuality or disability because that is just really irritating, and not just to the lesbian and gay and transgender audience, but just to all audiences actually find it a bit much.
Yeah, it’s not a tickbox exercise, is it, where you say, well we’ve got to have a gay character so we’ll tick that, we’ll put one in so we don’t need to concentrate on that any more, like you say skimmed around the person as well, the full potential of the character. And in terms of, I mean it’s interesting what you say, we have targets for disability, diversity, and that applies to general staff targets, and then senior management targets as well, we don’t have any targets for sexuality in terms of employment, and that’s quite interesting actually because i wonder how many people would actually tell you what their sexuality is in a survey of that kind, and I wonder how difficult it would be to measure that, but my sense of the BBC as an organisation, my personal sense, I have a lot of, I’m gay and I have a lot of gay friends who work in the BBC, and my sense of it is that it feels like quite a comfortable place to work, whatever your sexuality, it feels like it.
We just introduced a question to our voice, our voice is a survey that’s done by staff, and for the first time we put a question about sexuality in there that’s completely optional for people, but for the same reason as you probably, we need to get an idea of what percentage of staff fall into the LGBT group and are happy to be classed as such. You have to ask people every five years though, because get to that, I mean we’re employing people at the age of eighteen. I mean if I’d have filled out a form when I was twenty one when I joined the BBC I wouldn’t have said I was gay, so at what stage would they have captured me?
Can we just see actually, if Asif here? He had a question about celebrity. Oh yes. I just want to ask you, because if you want to be news values, you always highlight with celebrities, so why do you do that? Why is it so important for celebrities to make the news values? Asif, have you come from an organisation? No no, I’m in University.
Why is there an obsession with celebrity, well personally I can’t stand it, and I think that we didn’t get a celebrity to front our one week series on disability, we got a person who happened to be disabled who we happened to meet because we did a news story about him at some point. Now, actually, why do people use celebrities? Because we are a celebrity obsessed culture, I’m afraid, and because as programme makers, I understand why programme makers take some of the decisions they take, I wish they would take them a little less often because it gets just a bit boring but you can’t turn on the television without celebrities walking up mountains, or going to the North Pole, and I agree with you, it’s just a bit wearing, but actually what are we trying to do? We are trying to engage people in difficult subjects sometimes, and sometimes that is how you do it.
I used to work on Breakfast and we got various celebrities for Breakfast on BBC One to go to Africa on some particular project, and go to India on some particular trek or whatever, and we did it because we thought that people, we might get more people to watch the programme because of it, that’s why we did it. Should we do it all the time? No we shouldn’t. I’m not sure we do it all the time in news, I mean I’m willing to be corrected on that, I don’t feel as if news is celebrities, I mean if you watch BBC News programmes there’s very little celebrity news in them. It has to be pretty kind of up there for it to make it into a BBC News programme.
I think that they’re used as vehicles to sell stories and all sorts of other formats because television executives think that celebrity sells. I mean I don’t know, lots of people will tell you that they didn’t watch it just because a celebrity was in it, but they’re lying, and I’m sorry but I know what newspapers they buy and I know how many people buy those newspapers every day and sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you get what you deserve. I don’t know, is that what it is? I don’t know.
One of the best pieces of television I’ve ever seen was Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Russell Brand on Newsnight, it was incredible, and I don’t know what the peg for the story was. I was going to say, what was Jeremy Paxman doing interviewing Russell Brand? It was amazing! It was solid, it was substantial, it was interesting, and it was long! It was about twelve minutes long, it was great. So I know what you’re saying, but it was not your standard celebrity rubbishy interview, it was great.
I just think, it may relate to what Asif has said, but one of the issues, one of the questions is should the BBC be challenging celebrity obsessed culture and actually, rather than actually going along, not going along, but using it to your own ends. The simple answer to that is yes, the BBC should be challenging that. but I think that if you took a, looked through the different programmes on different channels, what the BBC is doing on BBC One and BBC Two is very different to what you will see on Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV2 and all those other digital channels at the end of my thing that I never watch, and I do notice every time I skip past ITV2 on my way to the News Channel that there’s something about Katie Price on it, or Peter Andre, it’s like a non stop diet of it, and I don’t think you get that on BBC channels, but I don’t watch BBC Three very often, they didn’t make it for me, maybe that’s celebrity obsessed, I don’t know.
I think what we’ll do now is have a few minutes informal chat with Aziz afterwards, and if anybody’s got a question that we didn’t cover, I do apologise, maybe email it to us and we’ll see what we can do, or see if you can have a chat with Aziz now. It’s been really really I think, thank you very much for coming, Aziz, and Aziz has kindly said he’s going to email round a list of contacts so that’s been really helpful. What we’ve done is we’ve filmed this, it will go up on the website with subtitles, so hopefully we can continue this dialogue in some form. So I’d like to say thank you very much indeed, it’s been great, thank you for coming.