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Broadcasters must look beyond London and reach the whole UK

Published: 29 August 2023
Last updated: 29 August 2023
  • Ofcom calls on industry to reflect wider range of geographic and social backgrounds
  • Disabled and Black colleagues remain underrepresented in TV and Radio
  • BBC performing well overall, but must deliver greater value to underserved viewers and listeners

Ofcom is calling on the whole TV and radio industry to broaden the geographic and social make-up of its workforce.

Our annual study of the industry’s diversity shows that the social class and geographic background of TV and radio workers are poorly understood.[1]

While broadcasters are collecting more information on the socio-economic background of their employees than a year ago, there remains no such information for around 60% of employees.

Ofcom’s analysis shows that TV and radio employees are around twice as likely to have grown up in a professional home compared to the UK population (58%/61% v. 33%), and twice as likely to have been privately-educated (13%/16% v. 7%). Most broadcasters' workforces are still primarily based in London, even though four-fifths of the population live elsewhere.

Audiences consistently say they expect to see programmes that authentically portray modern life across the UK, its nations and regions.[2] To achieve that, broadcasters need to reflect the whole society they serve.

So Ofcom is challenging broadcasters to improve their measurement and understanding of social class and geography across their workforce – including how these characteristics overlap and interact with others such as ethnicity and disability.

Vikki Cook, Ofcom Director of Broadcasting Policy, said: “The door to the broadcast industry should be wide open to everyone, regardless of what part of the country you come from, or what school you went to.

“We’re calling on major broadcasters to look beyond London and attract the best talent from a range of areas and backgrounds, so the programmes they make feel relevant to every part of society.”

BBC can lead the way

As the UK’s national broadcaster, the BBC has an opportunity to lead the way on better representation.

Ofcom’s annual report on the BBC, also published today, finds that the corporation is generally serving viewers and listeners well through the breadth and quality of its programmes.[3] It responded effectively and rapidly to the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, offering significant amounts of educational content to fill the gap when schools were closed, and increasing its news provision.

Despite falling year on year, the BBC’s overall reach remains very high, with almost nine in 10 adults consuming its content on a weekly basis. And a significant majority of adults (64%) have a positive overall impression of the BBC.

But some viewers and listeners continue to feel underrepresented or inaccurately portrayed in BBC programmes. In particular:

  • People living in Scotland, and those in west and south-west England, feel less positive about the range and authenticity of BBC programmes about their area. In comparison, people living in south England and London have the most favourable perceptions.
  • Older disabled adults feel they are the least visible on the BBC. Fewer than half (44%) of disabled people aged 65 or over think the BBC does a good job in representing them in programmes. Similarly, only a third (34%) feel positively about how they are portrayed.
  • People from working-class backgrounds feel underserved by the BBC. Less than half (48%) rate the BBC highly for ‘showing a good range of programmes that include people like me’. Still fewer (43%) feel positive about how genuinely the BBC portrays them. By comparison, people from more affluent homes are much more likely to rate the BBC highly on these aspects (60% and 52% respectively).
  • Although Black audiences give the BBC an above-average rating for representation (60%), they are much less content with how they are portrayed (45%).

How the BBC performs on representation of UK nations and regionsHow the BBC performs on authentic portrayal of UK nations and regions

The new Director General, Tim Davie has acknowledged that the BBC does not serve all audiences equally and set out his broader priorities for change, which we welcome. We now encourage the BBC to set out detailed plans for delivering these priorities, including how it intends to better reach and reflect underserved audiences, and how it will measure its success.

Building on progress and accelerating change

2020 has seen a renewed commitment from senior leaders of the major broadcasters to transform the make-up of their organisations. And our reports show some progress.

A greater proportion of women (48%) and minority ethnic people (14%) are employed across the TV and radio industry than a year ago. The proportion of senior radio jobs held by women climbed from 36% to 43% year on year.

But progress is still too slow and some groups remain consistently under-represented. In particular:

  • Only 7% of TV and 6% of radio employees are disabled, compared with 19% of the working age population, with little sign of improvement in recent years.
  • Just 8% of senior management roles in TV are occupied by minority ethnic colleagues, compared with 12% of the working population and 35% across the London workforce.
  • Only 1% of senior managers working in TV are Black, despite Black colleagues making up 3% of the national working population.

Ofcom wants to see faster progress in three priority areas – increasing the proportion of underrepresented groups in the industry; senior accountability for setting and delivering against diversity objectives; and better information and representation around social class and geography.

We will continue to use our position to influence change, including hosting a dedicated industry event next year to hasten progress. As an employer, we will act with the same degree of transparency as the organisations we regulate. We will soon set out our own diversity roadmap for the coming years, to include new, stretching targets and plans for broadening the social class and geographic make-up of Ofcom.


[1] Ofcom has a duty to promote equality of opportunity in relation to employment in the broadcasting sector. We can ask broadcasters to provide information about their equal opportunities policies and the make-up of their workforce.

Our report for 2020 presents findings on the diversity of the broadcasters we regulate, including the main eight TV and Radio organisations. Interactive tools, published alongside today’s main report, include more detailed information on: workforce data across the UK television and radio industries; workforce data of the eight main broadcasters; and qualitative information provided by the broadcasters on the work they have undertaken to increase diversity and inclusion in their organisations. All data is for the period of April 2019 to March 2020.

Gives data on gender, racial group, disability, age, sexual orientation and religious belief for employees - together with an indication of whether these figures collectively have risen or fallen since last year.

[2] https://www.smallscreenbigdebate.co.uk/research

[3] This is Ofcom’s Annual Report on the BBC, covering April 2019 to March 2020. The BBC’s Royal Charter requires Ofcom to publish a report each year that sets out how we have carried out our functions as the BBC’s independent regulator, and assesses the BBC’s compliance with its Operating Licence and other regulatory requirements. Separately, we are required to report at least annually on the BBC’s performance against the measures we set alongside the Operating Licence. This forms the evidence base for our assessment of the BBC’s performance against its public purposes.

Today’s report assesses the BBC’s performance in delivering its Mission and Public Purposes. It explains how Ofcom has carried out its functions of protecting fair and effective competition where the BBC operates, and of upholding content standards in BBC programmes. This year our report is accompanied by a detailed interactive Performance Report, which presents extensive data on each of the Public Purposes and how well the BBC has delivered them, across the range of the BBC’s services and platforms.

[4] In addition to broadening its reach and appeal to a wider range of people, our annual report sets out a number of other areas of focus for the BBC. For example, we also want to see:

  • a bolder approach to due impartiality;
  • improvements in how the BBC engages with viewers and listeners, and other companies, on planned changes to its services; and
  • greater transparency around the BBC’s investment, strategy and performance in the nations and regions

We have also written to the BBC (PDF, 193.7 KB) to raise concerns on behalf of audiences about its proposed changes to regional news and current affairs, and have published its response (PDF, 176.0 KB) alongside our annual report.

[5] The BBC 2019/20 at a glance:

Infographic showing key findings from Ofcom’s annual report on the BBC. Since 2009/10, TV has fallen as a proportion of the BBC’s total content spend, while spending on online content and radio content has increased. 87% of adults consume BBC content each week but this varies across different demographics. Across all devices, average minutes of BBC content consumed per day is over two hours for all individuals and below one hour for those aged 16-34 years-old. 64% of adults 16+ have a positive overall impression of the BBC, compared to 69% for 16-24s and 60% for those aged 65+. 73% of adults use the BBC for news. BBC One, the most used news source across platforms, is used by 56% of adults. Seven in ten regular viewers of BBC TV news perceived it to be accurate and trustworthy. 59% of adults think that the BBC providers content that accurately represents and authentically portrays the life and culture of a range of different UK communities.

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