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Henry in call over media diversity

Money should be ring-fenced to promote ethnically diverse talent in the media, comedian Lenny Henry has urged after taking over a flagship BBC news programme.

Henry guest-edited Radio 4's Today as part of the show's annual line-up of alternative editors, with a focus on race, diversity and black culture.

The on-air line-up was altered to ensure every member of the team was from a black or ethnic minority background.

Regular presenter Mishal Husain was joined by Nkem Ifejika, with Reeta Chakrabarti reading the news, and Jay Wynne presenting the weather.

Linda Yueh was handling the business news while Karthi Gnanasegaram presented the sport.

Henry challenged Culture Secretary Sajid Javid on whether the next BBC charter should include minimum targets for diversity among staff and on-screen talent, but agreed with the Cabinet minister that simple quotas would be ineffective.

Interviewed on his own views, Henry said: "It's not just about on-camera - as far as I'm concerned you can make an episode of Downton Abbey or Pride And Prejudice as long as it's a diverse crew that make it, that to me is a diverse programme.

"It's this idea of giving everybody a chance and levelling the playing field... I just got thanked by someone who said 'I never get to be on the Today programme, thank you'. That to me... is one aspect of that is great.

"It's the idea we can utilise everybody at the BBC to make programmes like this, not just the few all the time."

Henry added: "I'm talking about ring-fenced money to stimulate BME production companies, black, Asian and minority talent.

"Perhaps one of the criteria would be 50% of production talent off screen by cost would be black, Asian, minority or ethnic, which would be self declaring. Secondly, a production company would be 30% controlled by BME or 30% of the senior personnel would be BME, and the third one would be at least 50% of on screen talent by cost would be BME.

"I'm not (talking quotas), quotas often denote quantity and not quality.

"If you ring-fenced some money in the way you ring fence money for the regions for proportional representation, perhaps you will stimulate BME production companies and we will get a different kind of television programme."

Challenged on whether excluding white presenters itself caused problems, Henry said there was already exclusion - highlighting the high numbers of public school or Oxbridge people in the media.

Henry said: "All I'm saying is people need a break. If the chance to be on that one programme Lenny Henry did and read the news or the sport or whatever, if the chance appears to do that why wouldn't you take it?

"I want to see a diverse media... what's interesting about diversity is it is not just about ethnicity, it's about everything, it's about inclusivity.

"Isn't there something divisive in the status quo? If the status quo is us being divided then we are saying it needs to be re-ordered and reappropiated.

"I'm not saying your programme is going to get broke or Downton Abbey is going to change because you have people of colour or people with disabilities or people with different genders or sexualities are behind the camera.

"I'm just saying give everybody a chance to make that programme."

Mr Javid was interviewed on the programme by Henry about whether to write into the BBC charter rules on diversity.

The Culture Secretary said: "I wish it was as easy as that, but I don't think something like that in itself would achieve the desired results.

"The concern I would have is when you have an approach where it's about reaching a quota or a certain number and it becomes an official target or requirement then you always run this risk someone might try to fill that just for the sake of filling it.

"I think the problem is more profound. It's not just about having the black face or the brown face - it's about building a sustainable pipeline of talent and making sure people from all backgrounds, and that background in particular, think of this as a career opportunity for them."

The minister said he "couldn't say" what should or should not be considered in the next BBC charter because it was not due for consideration until after the next election.

He added: "I think it is sufficient to say, when the charter review happens, all these kinds of issues need to be looked at. But it would be wrong for me to say this is the way to do it or that's what they should look at."

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