The BBC spending £128m on commissioning diverse programming isn’t an issue - but transparency is

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New figures have shown the BBC’s diversity scheme is a drop in the ocean of the broadcaster’s budget - and culture war arguments over it distract from the real issue

In 2020, the BBC made the announcement that it was to launch a new scheme aiming to improve the diversity in its television and radio commissions, with a target to spend more than £100 million on introducing talent from minority backgrounds into our households. 

The Creative Diversity Commitment saw the public broadcaster pledge £112m for commissioning new programming between 2021/22 and 2023/24 which features on-air and off-air diversity and inclusion, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. This includes groups such as those from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, disabled or neurodivergent or from a low socio-economic background. 

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Now it has been announced that within two years of the three-year scheme, the BBC has already gone above and beyond its original target of £112m, with £128.5m spent on diverse programming so far. But looking at the bigger picture, despite reaching the target early, the money placed into the scheme is a drop in the ocean of the broadcaster’s annual spend. 

At a £61 million spend for the year 2022/23, the money put into commissioning diverse projects is only 3.8% of the BBC’s annual commissioning costs, which stands at £1.6b. On top of this, the programming commissioned in the scheme included widespread hits such as reality gameshow The Traitors, coverage of the Women’s Euros in 2022 and children’s programming such as the CBeebies’ show Ranger Hamza's Eco Quest, which all contributed towards promoting the work of those who may have not previously been able to get their foot in the door of the industry. 

While it has arguably proven to be a success for the BBC, the ongoing culture war over the benefits and drawbacks of such diversity schemes which promote talent from minority backgrounds are only distracting from issues at the heart of the organisation. 

The transparency of the BBC has been an issue for many years.

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In fact, in the context of the Creative Diversity Commitment, the broadcaster faced criticism for not releasing previous diversity benchmark figures - while a “new” funding commitment was announced, it was reported that the fund was not ring-fenced specifically for the scheme nor was it confirmed that the £112m pledged was to be introduced on top money already put into commissioning diverse projects. With no previous benchmarks in spending, it makes the BBC's diversity scheme and the impact on minority backgrounds difficult to truly measure.

This hasn’t been the only funding transparency issue to impact the BBC in recent years. In 2018, an inquiry was launched into pay transparency after pressure from their own employees. It came after the corporation was required by the government to publish the salaries of its biggest stars and executives earning over £150k per year. 

The results showed a significant disparity between its male and female journalists for doing the same work.

BBC stars such as Victoria Derbyshire and Dan Snow, along with more than 200 other members of staff, signed an open letter urging the corporation to adopt a policy of pay transparency in an attempt to uncover pay discrimination within its workforce. The row saw high-profile female employees including journalist Carrie Gracie resign and some senior male employees pledging to take pay cuts to improve pay inequalities.

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As a public broadcaster, funded in-part by the licence fee, the BBC should aim to have transparency in how it spends its funding if it aims to represent the British public and the interests of the British public.

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