Sun, 16 June 2024

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BBC must improve coverage of domestic BME issues

3 min read

Labour MP Rupa Huq writes that the BBC has 'quite a distance to cover' on domestic BME issues following her criticism last week of the show Citizen Khan.

“Citizen Khan feels very like 'Love they Neighbour' .. makes me feel very uncomfortable so I don't watch it, I keep waiting for Reg Varney to out from behind the curtains”. So said a pal of mine to me, a white male middle class chap. But when I made a similar utterance in the House of Commons in a debate on BBC diversity and referred to the word “Islamophobia” in the same paragraph the two were lumped together and cue a load of online abuse.
Perhaps the incident shows the power of the Commons Chamber where your every utterance is televised and can be stretched way out of context. As an academic I lectured in hour bursts, as an MP It is frustrating to be interrupted when trying to make a point by Tory quibbles eating up your limited time (one wanted to let the nation know that the Guardian cannot spell his name right). When I wrote about the synthetic online outrage in relation the show as an academic very few batted an eyelid. Now I’ve had loads of folk telling me I’m too thick to be an MP, when they have clearly not read what I said but are responding to a lazy BBC website report that misrepresents me. My speech even referred to Mrs Brown’s Boys in stereotyping the Irish – which twitter users attacked me for not mentioning.

What I wanted to say is that despite winning Royal Television awards and running multiple series, the show for me feels very old school - you’d think you were in the mid 70s – the décor of the set, the guy’s car, the canned laughter all feel stuck in a groove. Asians have moved on since so a show where the comedy is based on hilarity derived from thick accents seems is executed with all the subtlety of being bashed round the head with the lead piping, unlike say the gentle recognition humour of Goodness Gracious Me which all Asians I know loved.
There are many wider issues relating to the debate’s motion considering diversity on and off-screen that do need discussion. I remember the actress who played Gita from EastEnders in the mid 80s claiming she said the only Asian she ever saw in a working day would be in the canteen. BBC output should also be reflective of our diverse nation - regional, gender, sexuality, disability as well as ethnically. Ethnic writers need not need to simply write “ethnic stuff”. Egyptian-born Brit Ash Atalla give us the mainstream comedy The Office which was a global success. On another level, a pretty face or two reading an autocue is a start but not the end of it. The boardrooms also need to be reflective of the nation.

The BBC has often been exemplary at picking up on conflict reporting (Michael Buerk’s reporting on Ethiopia led to the whole Band Aid & Live Aid campaigns in the 1980s). Nonetheless the corporation arguably still has quite a distance to cover when it comes to covering the relevance of the minority home truths of domestic BME issues, certainly beyond the stereotypes of gangs, guns, paddys and Islamic terrorists.

Dr Rupa Huq is the Labour MP for Ealing Central & Acton

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