THE BLOG

The 'I' Factor - Why TV Needs People Like You And Me

27/04/2017 10:31

First things first, I never thought about 'diversity' growing up. Not once did I think the colour of my skin, my social class, my religion or anything else about me was going to stop me from achieving my goals.

I was eight when I first realised my passion for storytelling. I remember sitting in the classroom as my favourite primary school teacher, Mr Geary, read The Hobbit to us. I remember being so hooked, not just by the story but by the way he was telling it. I could see Bilbo and Smaug - it was as if they were right in front of me. I thought, "I want to write like this Tolkien". Why not?

From then onwards, I was rarely without a notepad and a pen. I loved to write. Whether those were short stories, which, let's face it, were pretty good for an eight-year-old, or writing mini-essays about random subjects that interested me. I remember delivering one to my dad about how bad emphysema was and that he really should stop smoking. An interesting experience. I think he was half-impressed and half-angry.

Roll forward 20 years and there are plenty of magical moments I've had before and during my career that I believe have led me to where I am now. My first by-line at 15 in the local paper while on work experience; a Sky placement the year after; a Leicester-based children's radio station; a brilliant BJTC-accredited broadcast journalism course at NTU, taught by former BBC correspondent Barnie Choudhury, who I'm still fortunate to call my mentor; and the amazing opportunities I've had during my time at ITV News as a producer, telling fantastic stories and working with amazing people in the Midlands, the West Country and now the Channel Islands.

As a working class, first-generation British Asian from inner-city Leicester, I never thought that any of these factors were a barrier to me one day working in broadcast journalism.

But now that I work in the industry, and have done for almost a decade, I know that these things can often unwittingly affect progression and that's why I strongly believe in inclusion. Being inclusive is essential to our storytelling. You see, people want to see or hear themselves or someone like them. And that's not just in news that we're failing. The whole broadcast industry lacks real representation and inclusivity.

I don't like the word 'diversity' anymore. In my view, it's become a synonym for BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic). And please, let's abandon this awful attempt at showing 'how diverse we are' and switch to being 'inclusive' instead. Why? Because the thing is, we're all diverse, in that we are ALL different. We all have our own individual stories to tell. There is no one else in the world exactly like me. Or you.

That's why inclusion matters. We should be including everyone. We should be giving everyone a voice. But never to tick boxes. It's about just doing it naturally, 'incidental inclusion', if you will. How do we do that? Editorial justification is essential. And that's where we need to make sure that off-screen, we have a real mix of people working in our newsrooms and production offices. Everyone has something different to contribute.

It's this point I made when I applied for the Edinburgh TV Festival Ones to Watch Talent Scheme - a free professional development opportunity run by the Edinburgh TV Festival, to nurture future leaders in the television industry. I want our industry to celebrate our different communities. We play an important role in bringing people together, particularly in the current tumultuous political times in which we find ourselves. The interviewers recognised this and gave me a place. My time on that scheme is definitely on my list of those 'magical moments' I mentioned a little earlier. My cohort was made up of a range of people from a range of backgrounds, all working in completely different parts of the television industry. It gave me the opportunity to learn from them. The festival's sessions allowed me to get a much better understanding of the industry, the challenges it faces and how senior leaders plan to address them.

But no-one has got inclusion right just yet, on or off-screen. Perhaps a starting point is to ensure that the people who produce our work, in all genres, are from all walks of life.

The thing is, there are lots of people who perceive television and radio as something they would not fit into, seeing their race, their disability, their social class or other personal factors as barriers. I've had people tell me that ours is an industry they would consider but they don't see many people like them working in it. And that's the point. Where are their role models?

At the same time, it's also about giving the best person the job. I don't want the job just because I'm brown or working class, my perceived 'factors'.

I wish I had all the answers. I don't. That's where you come in. We all need to work together. Perhaps we should commit to outreach work, particularly outside of the big cities. It will be worth every penny. We need to look for opportunities to make the industry more inclusive and accessible.

I'm glad that the Edinburgh TV Festival is committed to this and I look forward to seeing how it continues to drive this idea forward. They are recruiting for this year's scheme until Friday 28 April. I would recommend it to anyone who cares about the future of the TV industry. I absolutely love my job and I want others to share in the joy of knowing that no matter who you are, where you come from or what you look like, you can make it.

You can apply for the Edinburgh TV Festival Talent Schemes through the website - http://www.thetvfestival.com/talent-schemes. Applications are open until Friday 28th April.

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