Sir Lenny Henry: Laws needed to boost diversity in UK media

Sir Lenny Henry has said there will never be diversity in British media unless legislators are “brave enough” to make it mandatory.

The comedian has said that those in the fight for representation have been battling an industry held back by the past.

He has called upon lawmakers to guarantee true representation in UK film and television.

Sir Lenny has said he wants to see the media shake off its inequalities and move into the 21st century with tangible policies, and not “groovy” initiatives.

Sir Lenny Henry tour
Sir Lenny Henry tour

He warned that viewers were moving away from traditional TV because they were not being represented on screen, or behind the scenes.

Speaking to the Press Association, Sir Lenny said that real change in the media felt “miles away” despite hard campaigning.

He said: “This is an infrastructural change that is needed.

“Until they are actually brave enough to make a law and mandate something, nothing is going to change.

“Everyone wants to be groovy and lead from the middle, but sometimes, somebody has to lead.”

He added: “Everybody is trying to get their game face on, where they can go forward into the 21st century. But they are hampered by the past.

“#MeToo, gender pay gap, ethnic pay gap – there’s a lot to shake off before we can move forward.”

Sir Lenny has said that broadcasters have responsibilities to represent the broad range of communities across the UK, and feels that this is not being done. He compared the increase of on-screen diversity to “putting lipstick on a pig” if there is no representation behind the camera.

The comedian has said that throughout his career he has encountered people who are “not on the same page” as the minorities seeking representation, prolonging the struggle for diversity.

Lenny Henry gives evidence to communications committee
Lenny Henry gives evidence to communications committee

He has recommended tax breaks for black, Asian and minority ethnic productions in order to boost diversity, and urged lawmakers to back solid financial support.

Sir Lenny said: “What’s stopping them? There have been many warriors in the fight for true representation in our industry. A lot of them have been throwing themselves at this problem and falling by the wayside, after valiant years of trying, trying, trying.

“I would like to think that we have moved the conversation down the line.

“It feels like we’re still miles away. We’re all tired, tired, tired of talking about the same old thing all the time.

“It’s time to change. It’s time to change it now. This is a great time.

“What we want is change, and why we keep saying stuff is because we’re frustrated by the stasis that we seem to be in.”

Sir Lenny gave evidence alongside Simon Albury, chairman of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality, and Marcus Ryder, editor at the China Global Television Network.

The three men recommended ring-fenced or contestable funds, or tax breaks as a solution to a lack of diversity which is hampering broadcasters to the benefit of online platforms.

Sir Lenny said: “Netflix is on their backsides.”