BBC 'has failed to connect with working class audiences'

BBC has failed to connect with white working class audiences and must do more to make them feel represented, says head of diversity June Sarpong

  • June Sarpong said her work to reach all groups would include the working class
  • Said BBC had ‘serious issues’ with reaching communities like one she grew up in
  • Also told Ofcom summit how she was only black person at executive meetings 

June Sarpong (pictured in March in London’s Southbank Centre) said her work to reach under-represented groups would extend beyond black and Asian people to encompass people of all races who are economically disadvantaged

The BBC has failed to connect with white working class audiences and must do more to make them feel represented, according to its head of diversity. 

June Sarpong said her work to reach under-represented groups would extend beyond black and Asian people to include working class communities and their concerns, including immigration. 

The presenter made the remarks at a virtual Ofcom summit where she also spoke about being the only black person in the room at BBC conference meetings. 

She said: ‘Often the BAME audience gets a lot of focus, in that the BBC doesn’t represent BAME audiences enough, and we talk about young people.

‘But we know that we’ve had serious issues in terms of our connection with C2DE [working class] audiences and I think it’s about getting the balance. 

‘As somebody who is an advocate for diversity, I’m always making sure I’m banging the drum for working class audiences because I come from a working class background, my parents were immigrants, we grew up in a white, working class community.

‘And I totally understand when it comes to immigration, that is the community that has actually lived it, and often we don’t have the sort of nuanced debate around this stuff that we need to.’

Sarpong praised new director-general Tim Davie, who she said ‘is ensuring we don’t ignore any part of our audience,’ Sarpong said. 

But speaking to Ofcom’s Small Screen: Big Debate virtual conference, she said the broadcaster’s survival depends on doing more. 

‘Now the audience themselves are very vocal, and not just of the BBC or of broadcasters but of any institution and company in general,’ she said. 

‘We understand that it’s absolutely vital for our success and our survival. It’s no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.’

Sarpong was asked whether media portrayals of Mr Davie – as someone who reversed the decision not to air the lyrics for traditional anthems on Last Night of the Proms – was a threat to diversity.

Sarpong denied this and said the BBC ‘ethos’ was ‘about being for all of us’.

She added: ‘In a way our survival is also in the balance and this is a key part of ensuring we are here for another 100 years.’ 

The presenter made the remarks at a virtual Ofcom summit where she also spoke about being the only black person in the room at BBC conference meetings. Pictured: Broadcasting House 

The diversity tsar also told the conference how she is the only black person in the room at Corporation executive meetings.

The BBC executive, who is paid £75,000 a year for her three day a week role, is the only black person on an executive committee of 11 people.

Asked what she saw around table in her role, she said: ‘I see what has been the story of my life, in terms of my career…I am the only one in the room. Nothing new there.

‘But the difference was we weren’t even in the room before, so at least there’s someone in the room.’

She pointed to the fact that new BBC rules mean there are at least two people from diverse backgrounds on every decision-making body.

While Sarpong is the only black executive on the executive committee, another of its members Gautam Rangarajan is also understood to be from an ethnically diverse background.

London-centric BBC is driving away working class viewers in the North and Midlands who feel it doesn’t represent them, admits Tim Davie 

In a frank talk last month, new BBC director-general Tim Davie said some parts of the country ‘don’t necessarily feel the broadcaster is for them’

By Paul Revoir for the Daily Mail and Amie Gordon for MailOnline

Tim Davie has admitted the BBC does not deliver ‘equally’ to everyone in the UK, saying metropolitan organisations can feel ‘distant’ from some parts of the population. 

In a frank discussion last month, the new BBC director-general added some parts of the country ‘don’t necessarily feel the broadcaster is for them’.

The BBC boss, speaking at a Royal Television Society talk, added the corporation should ‘renew our vows’ on impartiality, prioritising its ‘bigger purpose’ and avoiding chasing Twitter followers by being ‘outrageous.’ 

It came as Mr Davie admitted stripping millions of over-75s of their free TV licences is ‘not a great look’ for the corporation.

Mr Davie defended the decision to make more than three million households pay the £157.50 charge, as Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday accused the corporation of ‘stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners’ night-time drink’.

The new BBC boss, who took up the role at the start of September, said ‘no-one wants to be charging people money they were not paying’ but said although it had been a tough decision he backed the move. 

Mr Davie added if bosses at the broadcaster did not deliver on diversity levels they will not progress at the BBC.

When he was asked if there were ‘underserved’ audiences, he replied: ‘Absolutely. But the BBC doesn’t deliver equally to everyone.’ He added there were ‘certain bits of the country’, not just because of age, ‘that don’t necessarily feel the BBC is for them’.

He said: ‘It’s not as simple, by the way, as saying its under-35s. It’s often about your life circumstances, where you are, where you live.’

Mr Davie added: ‘There are audiences in a diverse Britain that feel a little bit further away from us.’

He said: ‘I do think there’s something about metropolitan-based organisations, or the way you hire, than can somewhat feel a bit distant from some of the population.’

His comments come as yesterday in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg turned fire on the BBC over its decision on over-75s TV licences. 

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