Caribbean news. In accordance with the old saying in event management, you’re only as good as your last event, CaribDirect Multi-Media did it again…the company in collaboration with Shiloh PR staged the first in a series of thought provoking seminars entitled, African Caribbean Reflections in British Media – Diversity Matters! at the Westminster Kingsway College, Kings Cross.
In spite of the many Christmas related activities competing for guests’ attendance and the cold biting weather, keen and concerned African and Caribbean citizens flocked to the venue to participate in discussions centred around the whole issue of how African and Caribbean communities are reflected on British television.
The influential panel comprised Ruby Mulraine – former BBC 1Xtra Executive; Joanna Abeyie – Senior Showbiz and News Journalist; Michelle Riley – Director Black Visions TV; Richard Blackwood – Legendary Stand-up Comic, Actor, Presenter, Broadcaster; and moderator Dotun Adebayo MBE – broadcast journalist / writer / publisher.
Bringing greetings and a message of support from the CARICOM High Commission community was Minister Counselor for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines High Commission, Mrs Doris Charles on behalf of High Commissioner Mr. Cenio Lewis and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. Mrs Charles stressed the need for focused discussion on diversity as members of the UK Caribbean Diaspora if the community is to progress as a people. She also put it to the panel that we need to formulate a plan via a policy document to examine the viability of establishing a media platform to represent the interests of the community. She took the opportunity to invite members of the audience and the wider African Caribbean community to not only engage with the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines High Commission but to visit the island and experience the many traits that make it a unique destination.
Richard Blackwood made it clear there’s no magic wan that will get talented Black and minority ethnic youth to stardom…He said the only way is to put in the graft, perfect your craft and be consistent. He dispelled the notion very quickly that knowing the right people without talent is a sustainable way to make it as over time the lack of talent will eventually result in failure.
Ruby Mulraine admitted the difficulty with getting into the likes of ITV, BBC and others as individuals but suggested the ‘easier’ path is to approach the majors as a ‘production company’. She pointed out that these companies suffer no shortage of applicants and the process is very competitive but the talented, experienced and creative candidates will stand a better chance.
Michelle Riley took the baton on the African media in UK issue by focusing on the poor quality of production and poor content on African TV channels. She said it’s one thing having TV channels thereby recognising the need but it’s another thing to be poorly representing the community with substandard production and content.
Joanna Abeyie was very forthright about the issue of needing money in order to make a difference in the community. She used herself as a prime example, confessing she started her business with no funding but has managed to place over 450 ethnic minority youth into media roles. Joanna believes if the passion for the task is there the desired objectives will be met and possibly surpassed with the help of persons who see the vision.
Questions from the floor were endless and at times very ‘fiery’ as participants felt deeply about the manner in which ethnic minorities are portrayed on British television and the establishment’s lip service toward making substantive changes. One participant, from Trinidad and Tobago challenged the moderator to explain why it is ‘we can’t be ourselves and win opportunities in British media but have to ‘tone down’ or totally revamp our offering in order to be accepted?’ This prompted a barrage of follow up questions from the floor.
One participant was concerned about the generation gap and social media playing a part in the general misunderstanding of youth in Britain. Another participant, a staunch CaribDirect supporter who traveled in from Birmingham alerted the audience to the level of talent and influence on the panel, people that are in positions of authority that can potentially make a difference to the African Caribbean experience in British media. He said the place to start in addressing the issue of Black people not working together is to establish a talent database, a facility that will catalogue the skills and talents of hundreds of thousands of African Caribbeans in the UK. He reckons this will lesson the likelihood that talented youngsters from the community will miss out on opportunities in the media.
Dotun, a seasoned journalist and moderator played the devil’s advocate on many occasions which fueled the discussion on both sides thereby creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness and mutual respect. His assertion to Minister Counselor Charles of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines High Commission, that Caribbean governments should support credible minority media houses in Britain to effectively combat the occasional negative and sometime erroneous news reports emanating from British mainstream media houses was indeed poignant. The High Commission representative was swift to respond in the affirmative that the suggestion warrants serious consideration and she will convey his sentiments to the relevant authorities.
To add greater breath to the discourse Dotun called upon Miranda Wayland, diversity and inclusion manager for ITV; Michelle Matherson from ITV Shiver Studios; and Baby Isako, SKY film creator / writer of Venus vs Mars. Michelle who was put on the spot as the person with influence at ITV to recruit talent enlightened the audience that there are innumerable opportunities for talented ethnic minorities and contrary to popular believe, ITV is looking for diverse talent, said applicants must have the right attitude and not expect to be considered just because they are of the ethnic minority community. She took the opportunity to indicate why Black media houses fail and it’s because the Black community don’t support them.; Dotun endorsed this by sharing his personal experience of many years ago when he was asked to give of his time and expertise to develop a certain well known African Caribbean TV station without the prospect of payment.
Baby Isako was asked to explain how she managed to attract SKY when so many have faltered. She said she was fortunate as she believed in her product and pumped her life into the production with a focus on getting it right for her audience, the African Caribbean community. She agrees that the lack of finance is really no excuse for failing or not pursuing one’s dream as she received no funding for the Venus vs Mars film project. Baby said she was blessed as SKY LIVING did not make any changes to the product and commissioned it for release in 2015. This provoked Dotun to tease, ‘If SKY offered you £100.000.00 to change the script would you do it?’ To which she promptly replied, ‘NO…because I believe in my product.’
Miranda Wayland agreed that diverse production teams do influence the flavour of the end product and therefore do make a significant difference to end user’s viewing experience. She also agreed the industry needs Black controllers and producers to ensure a constant and sustainable flow of ethnic minority talent for roles in front of and behind the cameras.
The networking session saw a hive of activity involving the exchange of business cards; the greeting of old friends long forgotten; the linkage of panelists with other industry professionals, students and concerned members of the public. The event was constantly shared with the outside world via Twitter under the handle #DiversityMatters! and all communication going forward will be found under this handle. As to the next installment in this series, the consensus is as soon as possible. Planning for episode 2 begins immediately! Watch this space for the date…
CaribDirect Multi-Media and Shiloh PR take this opportunity to thank all who attended and more so who participated in the question and answer session. We thank the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines High Commission for their continued support and also thank CaribBe TV, MoneyGram and Quick Print for their sponsorship and assistance.