Channel 4 boss ‘heartened’ by response to Hollyoaks racism claims

Channel 4 boss Ian Katz said the response to racism allegations at Hollyoaks was “heartening” and he hopes people feel emboldened to speak about their experiences.

The production company behind the show announced it is launching a new guardians scheme, spearheaded by the Old Vic theatre, in a bid to tackle racial inequality among its cast and crew.

Lime Pictures, which produces the soap, is introducing new measures after one of its stars, Rachel Adedeji, said she had experienced racism while working on the show.

Inside Soap Awards 2019 – London
Inside Soap Awards 2019 – London

Mr Katz told the virtual Edinburgh TV Festival: “What happened in Hollyoaks was in many ways quite heartening, a number of people felt emboldened probably by the events of the last few months, to discuss the experiences they have had which were really concerning.

“Lime reacted to that in the most open and self-critical way, thoroughly investigated all the claims that were made and has introduced really a quite ambitious and thorough action plan to tackle them, and I think everybody on the cast of Hollyoaks, and crew of Hollyoaks, feels they have responded with real seriousness and openness.

“This is a period where we are learning a huge amount about the experience of lots of our colleagues who have felt silenced in a way they haven’t talked about, being the only black person in a room, that is to the good, that is great, the more people who feel emboldened to talk about what they have been through, the better.

“And we as an industry need to be really open about engaging with those testimonies and addressing them.”

The “inclusivity action plan” sets out a number of areas including training, outreach, creative inclusivity and hair and make-up.

It proposes to launch a peer-led volunteer support programme, The Lime Guardians, to provide neutral and confidential assistance as people consider how to respond to concerns.

Addressing what Channel 4 is doing about diversity, Mr Katz said: “The Black Lives Matter movement in general has delivered a fairly firm kick up the backside to the industry on the issue of representation and particularly black representation.”

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He added: “It’s a particularly burning issue at Channel 4 because the channel was largely established to ensure representation for under-represented voices and I think we have made considerable progress in many areas.

“On screen, we monitor all our top shows and representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people, we look at our own commissioning team where representation is above the national average.”

He continued: “You only have to listen to David (Olusoga, who delivered the MacTaggart Lecture at the festival) for 10 minutes to realise we have to do better, we know we have to do more, a huge proportion of our commissioning staff is in London, so we need to try to make our staff look more like London.

“We know we need better representation at leadership level, we know we have to do more off screen, these are all things where I feel we have been doing good work but we have had a sharp reminder we need to move much quicker.”