The media is certainly not a stranger when it comes to the scrutiny of its lack of diversity. The latest programme to take the spotlight, The Moorside, a popular BBC One two-part drama has quite rightly come under fire for its whitewashing of the story. The programme sought to dramatise the sad story that surrounded missing schoolgirl Shannon Matthews, who went missing from Dewsbury in 2008.
Critics of the programme were upset to find out the documentary features hardly any Asian faces despite the Asian community coming together to support the search effort. Some people might say, why does it matter? Everyone knows it's not real. It does matter when the few occasions we do see people of colour they're often portrayed negatively and it certainly matters when British television shapes the way people view certain communities with clear and direct consequences. There are huge swaths of people out there who honestly believe that the people of colour in their communities offer nothing to their neighbours, even in times of need, and it's not hard to see why, when they're given little reason to believe otherwise by the media.
In this case, the drama was meant to portray the disappearance of Shannon, who was later found to have been kidnapped by her mother Karen Matthews and Michael Donavan. How can the BBC honestly broadcast a story that shocked the entire country without accurately portraying a core part of the story, the communities efforts to find Sharon? More than seven million people reportedly watched the documentary on BBC One when it concluded, and a record-breaking 9.9 million people tuned into the first episode. It's safe to say the impact of that story will be far reaching, and the BBC's failure to see that is naive at best and neglectful at worst. The anger has been focused on the on-screen diversity but I'm inclined to pause and look at the production team behind the drama. No team can effectively produce high-quality programmes without a diverse team who are conscious of these issues and have some personal grounding and stake in illustrating them accurately.
This is where a strategy has to become more than some empty words on a piece of paper. Last year the BBC published its diversity strategy, I would argue it wasn't far-reaching enough in the first place. It avoided the challenge they have of ensuring there's diversity within teams that have an editorial and creative influence on programmes and news. If the BBC want to avoid criticism it's critically important they get this right. Britain continues to be a multicultural, and the effects of the media's portrayal of the country may not appear to be putting people in danger but it all contributes to the narrative that often creates hostility and violence on our streets.
The evidence that diversity both off-screen and on-screen impacts the quality of television programmes has been available for years, but now it's becoming harder to avoid in an age where diversity is now just expected. It would be crazy not the acknowledge the huge amounts of changes I've witnessed in my lifetime but it's still extremely obvious that diversity still isn't where it should be. In the past, it's easy to see that the public has been largely focused on the diversity of fictional drama, however, factual documentaries or dramas re-enacting real-life events have increasingly gained the spotlight too and reasons are pretty compelling. I think people tend to think that diversity is just a nice thing that the so-called 'PC Brigade' go on about, but it's important we remember the huge impact it has for people of colour living in the UK.
By erasing the Asian community of Dewsbury, the BBC have not only done a disservice to that community, but to the wider Asian community in the UK. It's time for the BBC, and other key influencers to take responsibility for the ramifications of their actions, and the real and immediate action they can take to ensure these issues become a thing of the past.