Radio 4: Minorities do not lower standards


Radio 4 presenter Sarfraz Manzoor has blasted a former BBC executive for claiming that the channel was "dumbing down" by trying to get more ethnic minorities on air.

Manzoor spoke out after the BBC's former head of current affairs, Dr Samir Shah, alleged that Radio 4 was lowering its standards by hiring black and Asians in a bid to attract a more diverse audience.

Manzoor, who presents the Saturday Review show, accused the station bosses of "cloning" presenters in their image.

He told OBV: "I don't believe that talent is only found in white, middle classes only. I don't believe [hiring ethnic minorities] will lower standards. Radio 4 is for the entire nation, not just the white, middle classes only."

He said that decision-makers too often came from a "narrow social background" that included attending the Oxbridge universities.

Dr Shah provoked controversy two weeks ago when he labeled Radio 4's efforts to recruit more black and Asian presenters as "embarrassing."

Dr Shah, chief executive of the independent production company Juniper TV which make the BBC's This Week programme, said: 'It is done with the best of intentions - but for someone like me, from an ethnic minority, my heart sinks. It is just embarrassing. The problem is that, without realising it consciously, or not, they lower the barrier. And what happens to me when I listen to it, and it's an obvious ethnic thing, I worry that it's just not as good as it should be. And because they have all this pressure to reach particular people, or hire particular people, they don't have the same standards.'

But Manzoor, who has worked for the station for the past eight years, said that one of Radio 4's strengths was not stereotyping BAME broadcasters. They just needed to hire more talent from these communities.

In 2009 Operation Black Vote has highlighted the lack of diversity among Radio 4 presenters after revealing that only two of the stations 100 regular presenters were Asian, and none were of an African or Caribbean background.

The controversy led the former station controller Mark Damazer to discuss solutions with OBV's Simon Woolley.

It was not clear what examples of 'dumbing down' Dr Shah had in mind when he accused Radio 4 of lowering its' standards, but some regular listeners have complained about a late-night newscaster with a slight Caribbean accent.

Former BBC radio presenter Dr Robert Beckford, a theologian who has worked with Dr Shah on a TV programme in the past, blamed the failure to hire black and Asian talent on "cultural illiteracy" on the part of broadcasting bosses.

'It's institutional ignorance and that's the tragedy. You could have done a post-graduate degree [in broadcasting] but if you don't look and sound like them they can't see you', he told OBV.

However broadcaster Lindsay Johns has claimed that BAME communities are not under-served by Radio 4, pointing out "we still live in a country which is 94 per cent white. For better or for worse, I happily accept that."

He added: 'Condemning Radio 4 for principally reflecting the core audience demographic of middle England is like denigrating Africa for having too many black people.'

That view is unlikely to impress many who complain that the BBC, and other channels, have failed to reflect Britain's diversity properly both on and off air.

Critics argue that little has changed since the BBC's former director-general, Greg Dyke, labeled the organisation as being "hideously white" in 2001.

Trevor Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who has previously threatened action against the BBC for not doing enough to employ BAME staff.

Phillips said: "On employment, the pool from which the BBC draws two-thirds of its staff [in cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester] is one-third ethnic minority. The BBC under-performing. It's not hideous, but it's not good."

Dr Shah was not available for interview.

Lester Holloway

Picture: Kulvinder Ghir and Nina Wadia in Goodness Gracious Me, a comedy show originally created for BBC Radio 4 from 1996–1998 and later televised on BBC 2 from 1998–2001

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With friends like this...

Who needs enemies when we have such ill informed supporters the 'good doctor'.

An Equal Opportunities Disaster.

I have mentioned in the past that, the behaviour of a government can sometimes be reflective on the way a society behaves. The last government (New Labour) did nothing to promote equal opportunities within its ranks. Instead, within the work place, it chose to introduce the "the Burden of Proof" on all race discrimination claims; thus undermining an important facet of the race relations law. Society saw this negative step as a way forward.

When I watch the television in this new millennium, we hardly see a true reflection of the United Kingdom as she is today. Instead, what we see is a United Kingdom as the way we want to keep it. The last racist and roguish government of the last thirteen years practically sat on it's big rear end did not even look into the situation. Instead, they chose to please the white working class with a view to deceptively getting their votes at elections. That is not democracy.

For there to be some fairness within the media, the government has got to lead the right way. The present coalition government (please correct me if I am wrong) has only got one minority ethnic citizen in the cabinet. This is no improvement on Tony Blair's racist government of 1997.

I believe that the opposition (New Labour) has only one minority ethnic citizen in it's shadow cabinet? With the government setting the wrong examples, society will continue to operate in this manner that it leads it.

It saddened me when a young lady (black) of a younger generation was again revealling the horrors of racism which was committed on her to me. The racism was clearly similar to the ones that were successfully committed to my parents generation in the 1950's and 60's.

The only slight difference today is that it is subtlely executed.