THE BLOG
17/12/2013 07:09 GMT | Updated 15/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Was Simon Amstell's Point on Apartheid Taken Out of Context?

Comedian and Broadcaster Simon Amstell guested on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show and was pressured to apologise and branded a racist across on twitter and other social media networks after making an apartheid reference about Radio 1 and 1Xtra.

This is what he said:

"What is going on? We're next to 1Xtra, it's so white in here. Mandela would not approve of the situation at the BBC."

Breakfast show presenter Nick Grimshaw asked why, Simon replied:

"Look at all these people in here."
Grimshaw answered:
"There's a lot of people."

Simon then said:

"Yeah, but look at the segregation that's happened."
and added:
"Well, someone had to say it. Mandela would say it if he was here."

Simon then laughed when breakfast show producer Matt Fincham said:

"I don't think that's the right thing to be saying right now."

Nick Grimshaw after the comment and brief link said: "

"Apologies if you were offended by anything that was said earlier."
Simon replied:
"Nothing I said was offensive though."

Should he have apologised? No! Why? It's far from racist and an observational point which resonates with me. It's a topic people feel uncomfortable to discuss and feel pressured to ignore.

Has Radio 1 fallen of its wagon and not diverse in terms of reflecting the society and culture through its currently daytime DJ line up?

Back in the mid 90s when the nation's favourite was re-launched with a fresh DJ line up I remember Radio 1's on air slogan's used primarily for social campaigns and events endorsed by Matthew Bannister and Andy Parfitt "One Love - One Station". It was promoted by the stations first black daytime presenter Lisa I'Anson and Dave Pearce. I felt proud that steps were being made to promote diversity and kick all prejudice stereotypes out of the window especially towards a younger demographic.

Radio 1 was the first national station to have a diverse line up of daytime and specialist DJs which comprised of Bobby Friction, Nihal, Trevor Nelson, Chris Goldfinger, The Dreem Teem, KC and Reggie Yates. Cutting my teeth in student radio at the time, knowing the diverse line up of the station's schedule gave me hope and determination to pursue my dream to get into radio and broadcasting.

Ten years on that figured has dropped significantly with only a select few of ethnic presenters, Benga, Nihal, Gemma Cairney and Jameela Jamill. I'm sure it's not Ben Cooper's intention but those are the statistics and they don't look or seem right. At a time where DJs are the cornerstone of youth culture, regarded as role models, and the new rock stars, it does seem unusual that Radio 1 does not have a daytime DJ line up that reflects it's multicultural audience.

I can personally relate to the topic as ten years ago I more or less made a similar observation to Simon's comment when I applied for work at a top London commercial radio station. At the time they did not have any ethnic talent on its daytime line up. I mentioned this to the managing director who agreed with me and put me in touch with the programme director. He seemed to have a different viewpoint and messed me around with patronising comments. In my final email to him I made a reference to music and radio apartheid for their lack of understanding and general ignorance. I was accused of calling them racist which landed me in hot water, blacklisted and I was never given an opportunity to work at that radio station again.

When my agent contacted them to put me forward for work this was the response given by their programme director who replaced the previous one I was dealing with:

"I'm afraid Edward burnt his bridges a few years ago with previous management here and it still resonates with some of the team here. Without going into detail I would so that it's best that we leave it I appreciate your email but I hope you understand."
The issue was swept under the carpet.

It's hurtful to think people have a one tracked mindset and take things to heart in light of an assumption or an observational point. Generally the BBC has come a long way. As a regular contributor to various networks they are ambassadors of promoting diversity and equality. A lot still needs to be done as some parts of the networks are failing to target ethnic minorities and only have a small proportion which has been highlighted by the BBC trust. No doubt Lord Hall, Danny Cohen and other key executives are looking into this and will be introducing initiatives to ensure more on screen and on air talent with comprises of ethnic and more women talent in particular.

Simon Amstell highlighted the key point. Why are the White DJ's on Radio 1 and the Black DJ's on 1xtra? It does seem like a tale of two worlds, two cities and somewhat touched a raw nerve. Many Radio 1 listeners responded on twitter and agreed but said Simon's comment was right but not put in the right context with regard to the passing of Nelson Mandela.

Dietrich Jeffreys @Dee4leeds

"Let's be honest, what Simon Amstell said on Radio 1 was correct, just not well timed."

James Tredgett @Jamestredgett

"Simon Amstell (rightly) pointed out the lack of diversity on Radio 1 and is now being branded a racist on twitter. Twitter logic."

Samantha Williams @SamWilliamsKM

"@SimonAmstell Rightly pointed out the lack of diversity on Radio 1 and is now being branded a racist on twitter! #nologic"

Simon was not doing anything out of character and merely making an observant point of view. It's like walking into a bank and asking why there are two sections - business and consumer. He was making an observational point of view that is beyond the confines of national radio and the media industry as there are other institutions who are failing miserably to address the issue by not having an equal mix.

The Metropolitan Police were once branded institutionally racist but are addressing the issue through a robust advertising recruitment campaign I am part of currently being aired on Capital Xtra, Kiss FM and Punjab Radio. There are lots of institutions that are connected with youth culture mainly fashion, music and lifestyle brands, who are simply not addressing the issue but will continue to fill quotas or have the token ethnic employee to show they are ticking boxes.

Do public sector and corporate companies reflect our broad mix of cultures and backgrounds? Not to the level it should be at. I bet if I visited their headquarters to see if they had a broad mix of people the only person I would see of ethnic descent would be the security team who would happen to be middle aged, well educated and either of Nigerian or Indian descent. It's the biggest stereotype in the world but no one ever questions why that's the case. It's depressing and hurtful to see that we have not evolved from those deep routed mindsets. Nelson Mandela would expect us to fulfil his legacy and promote equality. Unfortunately we have fallen short and it's essential to build those bridges and ensure the next generation are not short changed and live in a fair and equal society where they can be judged and valued on their ability, knowledge and expertise - not based on wealth, ethnicity or background. Society should not be based on a quota system.

We live in an age of political correctness. The best thing for us to do, move on, thank Simon Amstell for highlighting the issue and to continue Nelson Mandela's legacy of freedom, humility and for us to judge based on ability not on appearance, class or background. No doubt I am sure the comment would have won his approval.