Working class people on television are often depicted negatively, BBC report finds


People from working class backgrounds are often depicted negatively and are the object of ridicule on TV, a BBC report has found.

The BBC admitted that it must avoid ‘stereotyping’ characters and instead move towards more ‘nuanced’ portrayals of the working class in a report on creative diversity both on and off screen.

The report – authored by the BBC’s diversity chief June Sarpong – found that just over a quarter of viewers believe there is not enough representation of people from diverse economic backgrounds on British television, including the BBC.

But it did praise Connell from Normal People, Eve from Killing Eve and Terry from I May Destroy You as good examples of fully fledged characters. 

The reports findings come just days after the coorporation was slammed for its ‘politically correct’ agenda.

The BBC's diversity chief June Sarpong

People from working class backgrounds are often depicted negatively and are the object of ridicule on TV, a BBC report has said. Left: BBC director-general Tim Davie. Right: The BBC’s diversity chief June Sarpong

The report praised Connell from Normal People as an example of a fully fledged character

Eve from Killing Eve was also praised

The report praised Connell from Normal People (left) and Eve from Killing Eve (right) as good examples of fully fledged characters

Terry from I May Destroy You (right) was also listed as an 'archetype' character in the report

Terry from I May Destroy You (right) was also listed as an ‘archetype’ character in the report

More than 25 Tory MPs – led by senior backbencher and ex-Minister Sir John Hayes – wrote to the Prime Minister last month to urge him to decriminalise the licence fee to ‘defend British traditions and values…to stand against the senseless woke whingers and the soulless militants who despise the best of Britain’.

The BBC has previously committed to spending £100 million of its commissioning budget from April next year on diverse programming. 

The report said: ‘Often those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are depicted negatively, fuelled by stereotypes and seen as the object of ridicule.

‘We need to ensure our reflection is balanced.’

The BBC said the observation is about TV in general, not just the corporation’s output.

But it said the BBC must ‘move away from some stereotyping in characters and inform more nuanced on-screen portrayal in storytelling’.

The report cites Connell from Normal People, Eve from Killing Eve and Terry from I May Destroy You as good examples of fully fledged characters.

But more than a quarter of people – 27 per cent – say there is too little coverage of diverse socio-economic backgrounds on TV, it said.

Last month, the BBC's head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro (pictured) urged the broadcaster to diversify its senior news staff because editorial meetings should not be 'dominated by what white people think'

Last month, the BBC’s head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro (pictured) urged the broadcaster to diversify its senior news staff because editorial meetings should not be ‘dominated by what white people think’

The BBC also said it will meet audiences regularly to help boost diversity on screen.

It will hold ‘intimate in-depth sessions, to help build empathy and inform’ programme-making decisions.

BBC director-general Tim Davie said: ‘Across the BBC, our focus has been on making sure that everyone – across the UK, from all backgrounds and communities – can feel that the BBC is for them.

‘It’s about being relevant to every part of society, and delivering value to every household. We have a responsibility to reflect and serve all audiences.’ 

The report said that ‘failure to seize this moment risks us losing the loyalty of future generations’. 

Last month, a BBC executive urged the broadcaster to diversify its senior news staff because editorial meetings should not be ‘dominated by what white people think’. 

Head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro says top news spots at the BBC have been predominately held by white men. When he joined in 2014, every person on his team was a Caucasian male – including him.

He has also claimed that reporters in outlets including the BBC didn’t fully grasp the gravity of the issues faced by council-housing residents prior to the Grenfell Tower disaster that killed 72 people. 

He has also claimed that reporters in outlets including the BBC didn't fully grasp the gravity of the issues faced by council-housing residents prior to the Grenfell Tower (pictured) disaster that killed 72 people'

He has also claimed that reporters in outlets including the BBC didn’t fully grasp the gravity of the issues faced by council-housing residents prior to the Grenfell Tower (pictured) disaster that killed 72 people’

In 2017, at the time of the disaster, ‘not enough people in newsrooms all over the country came from that background’, he added.

Mr Munro – who earns £180,000 per year – told the Media Masters podcast: ‘We don’t want all our editorial meetings to be dominated by what white people think.

‘We don’t want any single group in society to dominate our editorial thinking, because we are not being diverse in our thought process.’ 

His comments come after BBC director-general Tim Davie said the coorporation needs to ‘fundamentally change’ how it recruits employees and improve the diversity of its workforce.

Mr Davie said that while he is not ‘anti-Oxbridge’, jobs should be accessible to people who do not have the same academic background.

Speaking during an event at the Creative Coalition 2020 festival, he added: ‘You are going to get some of the best people who broke through social barriers, go to the top universities and be fantastic candidates.’

However he said it would be ‘ridiculous’ if the only route into the creative industries was through leading universities.

The BBC sparked wide-spread outrage in July after Fiona Lamdin (left) said the n-word in a news report

The BBC sparked wide-spread outrage in July after Fiona Lamdin (left) said the n-word in a news report 

‘I think sometimes, in patches, we have fallen foul of that,’ he said.

The BBC sparked wide-spread outrage in July after a white presenter said the n-word in a news report. 

More than 18,000 people complained to the BBC after social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin said the highly-offensive term while covering a racist hit-and-run attack on a black NHS worker on July 29.

Then director-general Lord Hall apologised nearly two weeks later.

And last month, the BBC’s diversity chief June Sarpong said she was ‘gaslighted’ by TV bosses during her career and that they feared allowing a black person to represent a mainstream show. 

The broadcaster, 43, has been tasked with improving diversity on screen and behind the scenes at the BBC.

She said that ‘we are past the point of empty rhetoric’ and she hopes that new talent ‘doesn’t necessarily need to go through the things I went through in my career.’

Sarpong began her media career with the radio station Kiss 100 and later became an MTV presenter and one of the female faces of Channel 4’s daytime teen-aimed programme T4. 

Sarpong told the Creative Coalition 2020 conference: ‘I understand first hand what the problems are and who the problem is as well and where the barriers are to progress,’ she said.

‘I’ve been in rooms with commissioners where you’ve been gaslighted.

‘I’ve been up for jobs and, last minute, there’s been fear of whether or not a black person can present a mainstream show.’

Commenting on today’s report findings, Ms Sarpong said: ‘How we respond to the challenge of creating a more inclusive organisation will determine whether the BBC can deliver value for all audiences into our future.

‘This feels particularly pertinent as we approach the BBC’s centenary in 2022.’ 

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