Senior Black and Asian UK creatives including Sir Lenny Henry, Afua Hirsch and Pat Younge have written an open letter to BBC Chair Richard Sharp seeking reassurances that “advocating for our industry to be diverse will not block people from being employed by the BBC.”
The open letter was organised by Angela Ferreira, who runs Henry’s indie Douglas Road, in response to allegations over the weekend in UK newspaper The Daily Mail that BBC Director General Tim Davie vetoed the appointment of diversity champion Marcus Ryder to the corporation.
Ryder, who used to work for BBC Scotland and has in recent years been plying his trade for Chinese news agency CGTN, is said to have been invited to apply for the role of executive editor overseeing radio news program Newsbeat and radio station Asian Network.
The job eventually went to an internal candidate and reports have suggested Davie interfered after believing Ryder’s appointment would be controversial given his history as a public diversity champion.
Signed by multiple figures and published on Twitter around an hour ago, the letter said: “We are seeking reassurances that advocating for our industry to be more diverse will not disadvantage or block people from being employed by the BBC but will be seen as a positive in line with the BBC’s stated aims and values.
“We believe that this issue is far larger than Marcus Ryder or any one appointment. It raises serious issues of journalists and potentially anyone being effectively barred from working at Britain’s largest news organisation due to perceptions of bias.”
The letter has so far been signed by legendary Black comedian Henry, whose Centre For Media Diversity counts Ryder as a Visiting Fellow, along with on-screen talent such as Hirsch and respected Black execs like former BBC in-house productions boss Younge.
Other senior UK figures to have put their name to the document include indie bosses Ferreira and Lucy Pilkington, along with Younge’s journalist brother Gary Younge.
Davie, who will meet with Ryder in a few weeks’ time, has made improving impartiality one of his key approaches since taking over one year ago and the BBC published stringent new impartiality guidelines in early 2021.
The issue reared its head recently when a BBC Board member was reported to have tried to block the recent appointment of BBC News executive editor Jess Brammar due to past Tweets and her criticism of the UK government.
A BBC spokesman said: “We’d never comment on who did or didn’t apply for a job. After an external search, BBC News decided that as this role was bringing together departments from across the country, we were looking for an internal candidate with an existing understanding of the BBC, so did not take forward any external candidates for this particular post. After a separate recruitment process, we appointed an internal candidate on a year’s secondment. This was a BBC News decision. It is wrong to suggest any veto was exercised on any candidate.
“We are committed to being an inclusive and welcoming organisation which reflects the diversity of the UK both on and off screen, and we have targets to boost representation at the centre of our Diversity and Inclusion Plan which launched earlier this year.”
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