How ITV doubled down in support of Diversity


The past fortnight has seen the broadcaster under significant pressure to change their stance. Instead, they have chosen to remain defiant.

In the corporate world which sees so many pay lip service to matters of racial equality and diversity, companies are often quick to take a visible stand on the side of the socially equitable. Rarely however, are they faced with the prospect of having to openly do so for matters concerning their own platforms. Perhaps it’s the logical fate of being a broadcasting company, as eyes and ears are glued to all events as they unfold in real time. But for ITV it has been less a case of lip service and instead one of defiance. This has come as the result of Diversity’s performance during the talent show, Britain’s Got Talent, almost two weeks ago.

It was a performance which was greeted with admiration and recognition by many. The performance attempted to cover the most pressing aspects of what has proven a difficult year for the public. Part of this included continuing the conversation regarding police brutality and ‘another disease’ for which “racism was the symptom”. At one point in the performance a man dressed in police gear was shown keeling on Ashley Banjo’s head, in a pose reminiscent to the tragic murder of George Floyd in May. The message was clear but it was only one of a wider number.

Curiously, as has since been overlooked, the performance did also focus on the fallout from the pandemic, showing appreciation and thanks for “the heroes of the NHS” and the nation's ability to somehow overcome in the midst of a troubling period or as it was put “find love within the sadness.” In truth, it was a performance which spoke to many issues for many people, with the underlying theme of unity and restoration weaving together these separate acts which came to a head during lockdown. But for many the act of supporting the Black Lives Matter mantra was a step too far. Too overbearing? Too loud? Too uncomfortable? There are a number of reasons which have been offered to explain the apparent distaste. The ‘politicization’ of a subject better left for the six o’clock news than a dance crew is another which has been offered.

The performance was viewed by close to 5.3 million but was received poorly by many.

The performance saw a noticeable number of viewers (almost 24,500) file complaints with the broadcast regulator OFCOM. Per Adam White of The Independent, OFCOM's investigation revealed that the formalised complaints revolved largely around four claims: that it was racist against white people, that it portrayed the police in a negative fashion, was unsuitable for a family audience, and that it “expressed support for a political organisation” in Black Lives Matter. But these have since been rejected. In an official statement on the matter, OFCOM stated:

“We carefully considered a large number of complaints about this artistic routine, an area where freedom of expression is particularly important. Diversity’s performance referred to challenging and potentially controversial subjects, and in our view, its central message was a call for social cohesion and unity. Any depictions of violence by the performers were highly stylised and symbolic of recent global events, and there was no explicit reference to any particular political organisation – but rather a message that the lives of black people matter.”

By the time OFCOM’s verdict had been delivered, the talent show had already felt the effects of the performance. The following week’s episode saw 500,000 less viewers than the week before, with ‘only’ a paltry 4.8 million tuning in for the second semi final. For perspective this was still more than double the figure of the much discussed Last Night of the Proms that had drawn close to 2.1 million views but offered a closer reflection of just how many had been irked by the performance.

Worse still is the abuse that the performers have since had to endure. Lead performer Ashley Banjo has been subject to racial abuse as a result of the performance while his brother and co-performer Jordan, struggled through an interview when sharing his frustrations at the subsequent reaction. Being overridden with emotion, he would cut short his interview with Kiss FM. Both, as well as the group as a whole, will surely need help through a difficult period but the response of broadcaster ITV has been noteworthy. In the week following the performance they released a statement emphasising their right to broadcast the performance on their channel. In a statement delivered last week the network said:

Jordan Banjo brought was moved to bring his Interview to an early end after a difficult week.

“Britain’s Got Talent has always been an inclusive show, which showcases diversity and supports strong storytelling in all forms and ITV stands behind the decision to broadcast Diversity’s performance on BGT.

“Ashley and the group are a great example of the talent, creativity and diversity of modern Britain and their performance was an authentic, heartfelt response to many of the issues and events which have affected society in 2020.”

This has been followed by their decision to double down on their stance. This weekend saw ads created in collaboration with their own ad agency Uncommon Creative Studio, appear across national newspapers and social media. The strap line which states that ‘We are changed by what we see. Just as we are changed when we are seen’ is supported by the statement at the bottom of the image reading: ‘ITV stand with Diversity’.

While many are rightly sceptical of companies declarations on the matter of racial inclusion, ITV have used a fortnight fraught with difficulties as a moment not only to reaffirm the direction in which we hope to head but also as a teachable moment for the merits of art, expression and how it can be used as a vehicle to convey topics which some would otherwise wish to ignore. Social media and the 24 hour news cycle are such that we never need to look too far to see what empty statements of support from brands and broadcasters look like (see the Jo Malone & John Boyega debacle as one example). But, in a year which has been littered with such statements, ITV’s continued support of Diversity’s performance is especially noteworthy. That it is however, tells a story of its own.

Mayowa Ayodele

Note: Picture of Jordan Banjo is from an earlier interview and is not from his appearance on Kiss FM


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