In the 1990s, before the era of the Cultural Diversity Network (CDN), I felt something needed to be done about employment opportunities for BMEs in broadcast journalism. Along with some colleagues, I formed a collective which, with the assistance of the Freedom Forum, staged events well attended by people in the broadcast profession.
Ten years on from the establishment of the CDN, BMEs still have reason to feel hard done by, and a new, more savvy generation within the milieu of digital broadcasting wants answers. On 18 March the network held an event at ITN headquarters in London aimed at tackling the issue head on with a panel consisting of Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs, Channel 4; Kate McAndrew, executive producer, Sky Afternoon Live; Tim Singleton, head of foreign news, ITN; and Craig Oliver, deputy head of the BBC multimedia newsroom.
The evening began with a short film featuring personal accounts from senior blacks and Asians in the industry, including Chuck Nwosu, assistant editor, BBC News; Vivek Sharma, programmes editor, Sky News and Samira Ahmed, presenter, Channel 4 News.
It was followed by ITN's managing editor Robin Elias shedding some light on the balance of industry employment in England:
• In England the population percentage of BMEs is 12.8 per cent;
• In London it is 29 per cent;
• In London BME editorial staff accounted for 10 per cent of the workforce;
• BME on-screen staff made up 14 per cent;
• BME off-screen staff and editorial managers made up 8 per cent.
Elias acknowledged that there was work to be done. Two hours is hardly adequate to resolve deep-seated issues, but forums of this kind are necessary. They give a realistic sense of the depth of feeling.
They are also an opportunity for delegates to appear before a panel of established media professionals and get themselves noticed. Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy said that he had been guided by a senior executive as a young journalist - something I benefitted from as well in Tim Gardam, then editor of Newsnight, and Janet Street Porter kickstarting my TV journalism career in 1990 - but such methods are not universal.
Broadcasting's revolving employment door, the result of job-hopping, internal promotions and redundancies, has slowed down. The debilitated economy has further damaged the hinges. People are staying put, and that puts more pressure on entrants. Jim Latham, the secretary of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC), the journalism accrediting body represented by broadcasters and academics, presented the following statistics: in 2009, approximately 3,500 students were taking part in 58 accredited journalism courses, almost exclusively in universities. Of that number, around 1,000 will emerge from graduate and postgraduate programmes. Of those 1,000, around 350 will be blacks and Asians.
"There are big problems in broadcasting, which have to be dealt with by essential programmes of in-house education and training. The casual offence caused by complete ignorance of interests, beliefs, and what makes ethnic communities tick isn't good enough," said Latham.
A couple of years ago I made the same point in a film made for an event on digital diversity at the ICA, recognising the many tiers opening up in the digital world where minorities were becoming marginalised. As a senior lecturer in journalism and council member of the BJTC, I too see the issue first-hand. I have a duty of care to all students, but I do try to mentor black and Asian would-be journalists.
At the Southbank Centre I'm looking forward to working with artists in residence, SE1 United (predominately black youngsters), alongside acclaimed British filmmaker Penny Woolcock, responsible for Mischief Night, and more recently 1 Day - an uncompromising film about the Birmingham Grime scene.
But in these digital revolutionary times, with rich innovation in journalism and storytelling, it's disheartening not to be seeing more profound gains being made by people from minority backgrounds.
The will appears to be there. Certainly the tools exist in Twitter, blogs and videojournalism for BMEs to further the campaign. And the job market will pick up again. So just when will the problem of BMEs be solved?
David Dunkley Gyimah is a former broadcast journalist who has worked for Channel 4 News, Newsnight and ABC News. He is now a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Westminster and artist-in-residence at the Southbank Centre. He is currently researching videojournalism and news innovation as part of a PhD, and was a juror for the RTS broadcast innovation awards. He publishes viewmagazine.tv.