THE BBC should do more to “provide an authentic portrayal” of modern Britain, according to one of its senior figures who admitted its flagship soap EastEnders is “almost twice” as white as the real East End.
The remarks by the acting head of the BBC Trust Diane Coyle echo recent comments by actor and comic Lenny Henry and the director-general Tony Hall, who announced a series of targets to increase staff from ethnic minority backgrounds last week.
Ms Coyle, who is in the running to replace Lord Patten as head of the trust which is the corporation’s governing body, said the BBC’s Audience Council for England “compared the population of Walthamstow in East London with Walford – the fictional home of EastEnders”.
She said: “The Audience Council figures suggested that there are almost twice as many white people living in fictional E20 as in real life E17, while the population of EastEnders tends to be younger than their real life counterparts and more likely to have been born in the UK.”
She said it would be “daft” for the show to be a “perfect replica” of the real world, but said it was “important to ask whether the BBC can do more in its popular output to provide an authentic portrayal of life in modern Britain”.
In her speech at the London School of Economics, which will be widely seen as an application to replace Lord Patten who stepped down in May, she said the BBC’s independence was “not as secure as it might seem” and that it had “become more and more entangled with parts of the machinery of government, Parliament and the State in all sorts of other, more or less obvious ways”.
Ms Coyle, an economist by profession whose husband is a BBC journalist, said there was “every reason” to think the licence fee was “sustainable” and called for a “full, open public debate” about funding.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “Diversity is an important issue and last week we announced plans in place to ensure the BBC of the future represents every family and community in the UK.
“In the next three years we want to see on-air BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) portrayal increase from 10.4 per cent to 15 per cent.”