News Radio

You spoke, the BBC listened

THE AFRICAN and Caribbean communities are not powerless. When we come together in solidarity fighting for equality, demanding to be respected we can win. Above all when we are successful, everyone benefits way beyond our own communities.

Back in April, six Caribbean individuals – Diane Abbott MP, David Lammy MP, Pat Younge – ex director of BBC, Baroness Ros Howells, George Ruddock – The Voice Editor and myself wrote an open letter to two of the most senior men at the BBC – Tony Hall and James Harding.

We lamented the fact that they were about to make redundant the only journalist specialising in African and Caribbean news on the radio. Their argument was that budgets were being moved for a more local response, but we argued losing this focus and particular expertise was both short-sighted and undermined the BBC’s own remit to be a broadcaster that valued diversity.

Also a number of BBC Caribbean staff also made their feelings heard at the highest level.

Four months later, after some genuine soul searching, the BBC has been big enough to recognise April’s move was a mistake. They now want not just journalist specialising in Caribbean and African but a team of journalists which would enhance the BBC as a whole.

In a statement last week the BBC said: “We are going to create a small team to cover the underreported African-Caribbean community; we are going to increase the number of political reporters and city correspondents across England to enhance local coverage and we are focusing our funding on original journalism through the big stories fund in Newsgathering and by providing extra money for Newsnight.”

This move is perhaps too late for Helen Bart and Kurt Barling who between them had 35 years of experience before their contracts were not renewed. But on the broader issue of the roles importance, we have resoundingly won.

This latest move comes on the back of the Lenny Henry campaign who has demanded that the BBC and other broadcasters ring-fence a minimum amount of money for BME productions.

We can only applaud Harding and others for listening and acting upon sound advice. I guess we’d argue this should not have occurred in the first place, but they’ve listened.

Let’s hope that this latest move marks a new era in which Harding, Hall and others recognise our value and begin the process of ensuring greater representation in middle and senior management, and greater communication with those communities the BBC seeks to serve.

* Simon Woolley is the director of Operation Black Vote (OBV), an organisation that aims to inspire BME communities to engage with public institutions in order to address the persistent race inequalities we face in areas such as: education, health and employment