BBC Radio 4: Diversity and quality are not mutually exclusive
I’m at a loss to see what all the fuss is about in regards to Radio 4 seeking to broaden its appeal beyond the white ABC 1 (35-55) age group. The rational is clear: In future years it will be this group that will be the station's main stay audience, as it is now, which is a worry say the authors of the report because it is this group that is in decline.
The report is also unequivocal about maintaining the same high standards whilst looking at other ways to broaden its appeal. The report particularly highlights that BME groups, even with the same ABC 1 demographics, who are not tuning at the same rate as their white cournterparts.
Sadly the usual Black commentators are pulled out the woodwork to demand, ‘Don’t dumb down’, to accommodate us, and ‘Don’t’ patronise us’.
To those that are suggesting that a programme with a Black reference, or a Black presenter automatically means that it will be dumbed down, where is your evidence for making such an assertion? Diversity and quality are surely not mutually exclusive. Sadly these comments say more about the individuals than the suggestion the report authors are making.
It was probably OBV that began this process of reflection at Radio 4. It was about 18 months ago when we looked at the stations regular presenters and found that all but one were white. We argued at that time an English speaking foreigner who listened to Radio 4 might believe that our UK citizens are almost exclusively white. More importantly, we argued that many BME individuals listened to Radio 4 despite the fact that we were rarely included and when we were, we were spoken about and rarely spoken to.
Since then anecdotal evidence suggests that Radio 4 has made a big effort to be more inclusive – a diverse range of programmes that appeal beyond their traditional target group - and more representative.
The Chartists were a radical English political movement which campaigned for democratic reform: a vote for every man over 24, and annual parliaments to avoid corruption. One of the key protagonists was a Black man called William Cuffay. So, here was a quintessential English story covering the life of Black man, presented by a Black man. Listening to that high quality, slightly high brow programme I and I’m sure many other Black people had a great sense of belonging, both to the episode of that history but also to radio station.
It’s right that Radio 4 reach out and looks for new talent and brilliant stories that entertain, inform and enrich all our lives.
Makes you wonder why anyone would have an objection to that.