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.

One very good example of this was the programme Bill Morris made about the Chartist William Cuffay: Britain’s Black revolutionary

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.

Simon Woolley

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Stereotyping interests.

I am not a black man and I found the programme about William Cuffay to be quite interesting. I generally find interest within a multitude of topics. To suggest that programming should be aimed at, or should be expected to resonate with, certain ethnic groups as precedent is a bit irresponsible.

Also, to suggest that a radio station might be targeted towards a specific audience, when such radio station is not stated as doing so, is simply pandering to stereotypes and a suggestion that certain interests only reside within certain communities - pure nonsense. I do not even agree with defining programming or radio stations as being interested to a certain 'racial group' (as a 'racial group' is even more a vague idea than an ethnic group) because it is insulting to suggest that all people within such a group would, or should, be interested in the same topic, this is also known as stereotyping and Mr Woolley has just committed the act.

Mr Woolley, I cannot even begin to understand how you would find a 'clear definition' in an issue which is so arbitrary and vague; you have not expressed any ideas on what could be done with the issue that you have raised. I will reiterate that you appear to, whether you believe it or even resent it, suggest that people of different ethnicities do not share similar interests or that there is a template of interests within a community. I know, and I hope that you understand also, that this is rarely the case.

stereotyping interest: u miss the point

Sadly John you miss the point. I'm glad you enjoyed the Black British revolutionary programme, which rather proves my point: that you can make more diverse programmes without targeting it exclusively for one sector of society. And in that diversity you were informed and entertained. To be clear the programme wasn't made for an exclusive racial group John, but there was a conscience effort to be more inclusive. That is a million miles away from stereotyping. Good to hear from you though.

audio = vision

Just one thing Simon, as a Yorkshireman these days I generally have to turn round to be able to see what the colour of whoever is speaking to me is, I guess that is the same for all regions apart from those who may have immigrated more recently and have not developed the local accent..the same would be for a black/white South African/Aussie et al - its not just a colour thing.

How you could could possibly tell it wasn't a Asian heritage person from Yorkshire for example would be beyond me....I work in a Professional environment and generally black or white, you can barely tell us apart in the way we speak.

If you mean whether we should have the slang of the inner city or the innit of certain parts of the country..then no..that is dumbing down....I know english speaking foreigners may have some startling attributes but being able by listening to tell the colour of someones skin..we need to find out how we can teach our kids that -):

I am a 24 year old black

I am a 24 year old black woman and have been listening to Radio 4 for as long as I can remember, as have my parents. I have black & white friends who also have listened to Radio 4 from an early age. I listen purely because its good quality listening with a variety of programmes and interesting debates. People need to stop picking, complaining and searching for hidden racism, stereotypes and something to be offended by in every little thing. If people really want to see changes of any kind, then write into the station and express your views without creating such an unnecessary fuss. There's just so many other more important issues (to do with discrimination/racism and otherwise) to make noise about; and in my opinion, this is not one of them. Also how you could ever actually measure the demographic of radio station listeners is beyond me, so the validity of this is questionable anyway.

Well said Simon

"Sadly the usual Black commentators are pulled out the woodwork to demand, ‘Don’t dumb down’, to accommodate us, and ‘Don’t’ patronise us’."

Simon is so right to counsel Black commentators and activists to fall into the trap of always going on the defensive

The BBC does itself proud by recognising
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that suggest that Black broadcasters attract lower audiences or indeed that they only attract BAME audiences.

Trevor Macdonald proved this case and secured a knighthood for his services to broadcasting. Krishnan Gurumurthy has made a name for himself on Channel Four And Moira Stuart drew significant audiences on BBC current affairs programs