British culture is a calling card to the rest of the world

Wednesday 3rd January 2018




Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands

The way in which we watch television programmes has experienced a dramatic transformation. Gone are the days of entire families gathering around the one set. Eight in ten UK adults now watch streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, and we are increasingly inclined to watch alone, often on a tablet or telephone. As the medium experiences such profound changes, we must help the industry evolve along with it.

Television is hugely important to the UK, not only to our economy – last year the television market brought in £13.8 billion in revenue – but also to our general happiness. By informing, educating and very simply entertaining, television enriches all of our lives. It serves us all to keep the industry in good shape and make sure that it is fit for any future change.

But the sector will only continue to deliver for the economy if it reflects and provides for every section of society.

The BBC’s new Charter is designed to help the corporation to thrive, serving all the nations and regions, whilst retaining its unique distinctiveness. Our objective throughout the Charter Review was to deliver greater transparency for the BBC as a public service broadcaster, because the public deserves to know how its licence fee is being spent. The BBC has, so far, delivered on its obligations to be more open, including by publishing salary details of all staff and talent paid over £150,000.

We hope that transparency will drive down costs in the same way they have fallen in the Civil Service and other areas where pay is disclosed. The BBC is operationally and editorially independent from government, so the specific amounts it spends on content and salaries remains a matter for them, but the public are now better placed to determine whether the corporation offers value for money.

The disclosures have, though, exposed a worrying gender pay gap, and I welcome the BBC’s commitment to close this gap by 2020. I will further engage with them to determine what specific action they plan to take.

Television is our most popular medium, accessible from every home in the land, and it is right that it should represent and serve every section of society. As well as closing the gender pay gap, we must make greater strides on diversity. Most broadcasters now have on screen quotas in place but, as Sir Lenny Henry has argued, that diversity must be matched by diversity behind the cameras – and not only among writers and directors but executives and commissioners, too – to ensure that the widest range of voices is heard.

And diversity is not only about race and gender; it is also about the environment people grow up in. Talent knows no boundaries – it is not restricted to any section of society – so we should find all of our country represented in and on television. Nurturing talent, wherever it arises, is good for social mobility but also for the industry as it increases the chances of employing the very best, and not simply recruiting from a small homogenous pool.

We want to see the industry active in all parts of the country. There are already thriving production bases all over the UK, and the BBC’s move to Salford has been a great success. Thousands more people are now employed across the region as a result of the relocation, and the creative boom has been felt by the wider North West economy. The area now has the second largest cluster of creative and digital businesses in Europe, with Salford outranking London as a hot spot for start-ups. Over 1,300 new businesses were launched there between January and March of this year. Since 2010, the digital sector in Greater Manchester has doubled its worth to an impressive £3.1 billion.

We believe that Channel 4, as a publicly-owned broadcaster, should now be playing a greater role in providing for the UK as a whole. Ofcom, too, has said that Channel 4 “could be doing more to represent the different UK cultures and communities within its programmes.” Currently, a whopping 97 per cent of Channel 4’s workforce is London-based and this cannot be good for diversity of staffing, nor of output. We have consulted on how Channel 4 could do more to drive economic growth outside of London, stimulate regional creative industries and better serve audiences across the whole UK. We will set out our plans in the coming months.

As we negotiate Brexit and prepare to build new global relationships, we must never forget the vital role our cultural content plays as a calling card to the wider world. It shows the best of us – our wit, creativity and innovation. If we are to be known as the open, inclusive society we aim to be, one that recognises talent and helps it to get ahead, then that needs to be reflected not only on screen but also in the boardrooms and production offices.

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