Fireworks (good ones) at our BBC workshop
Last week we ran our second workshop for media professionals, this time at the BBC. It’s the second in a series of 4 workshops we’re delivering as part of the Trans Media Action seed-funded phase.
- To find out where some media professionals are in terms of their understanding of trans issues
- To try out some fun and engaging workshop techniques to inspire journalists to find out more and come up with good programming and story ideas involving trans people
You can take a look at the agenda here.
With a lot of support from the diversity team at the BBC, we had a powerful group of people in attendance including the Commissioning Editor of Radio 1, the Controller of Production Talent, script editors, comedy & factual producers and executive producers.
It’s rare to get a group like this together for the best part of a day so we grabbed this opportunity with eager hands to engage and learn.
I don’t know if this rearrangement was partly responsible for the feisty debates that followed, but we certainly got what we wanted.
The BBC staff were frank, honest and many were passionate yet measured in their defence of some of the programming that many trans people find offensive. We spoke a lot about the decision processes that lead to something like Russell Howard’s Good News sketch about transgender air hostesses being made. Fear of causing offence simply isn’t a factor when producing comedy, they said. What’s wrong with offending people? The main question is, is it funny? If it is, it gets made, no matter what community is at the centre of the joke.
You might think this is fair enough, no?
However, Paris made the point that producers simply don’t know who they are making fun of when it comes to the trans community and, if they did, they’d be able to make fun of people in the trans community, like any other, with a bit more clued-up sensitivity.
Some producers said that they don’t have to know people from a particular community to make programming about them – and surely any programming at all is better than none? However, the problem for the trans community is that there is a dearth of programmes with trans people in them that the few appearances, where stereotypes which routinely bear little relation to the real lives of trans people are derided or ridiculed, have a very real, negative impact on the community.
See Trans Media Watch’s research How Transgender people experience the Media which found 21.5% of trans people had experienced verbal abuse and 19% violence that they believed was associated with representations of transgender people in the media.
One producer said that, in many ways, this is an inevitable phase in the community’s journey towards equality of representation. Black and ethnic minority groups have had a similar journey in the media and programmes like Channel 4′s My Transsexual Summer and BBC’s Sam and Evan (although not perfect) push things forward. So things are definitely moving. Our question is how can we make them move faster?
We definitely felt challenged in a really positive way at this workshop and, equally, we were able to challenge them. By engaging in a debate where everyone was allowed to say whatever they liked, we’re closer to shaping our plan for phase 2 of this project. The feedback from the session was extremely positive and we know that we’ll only gain ground by building relationships, not shouting from the sidelines.
After the second part of the workshop, when Fox and Karen from My Transsexual Summer joined us, you could feel the change in atmosphere in the room. It’s one thing to debate programming about a community amongst professionals, quite another to have a conversation with several, very different people, who are affected by that programming.
The BBC professionals at the workshop were universal in their support and willingness to learn more. And whilst this is a fantastic start (the commissioning editor of Radio 1 told us not to underestimate the value of that day with them – a group of senior BBC people left the room feeling very different about this community, which has a ripple effect throughout the organisation) we know that this is just the beginning. The challenge continues as we try to reach those even higher up, who are less likely to come to diversity workshops, which aren’t mandatory for staff.
A few firm actions following this workshop:
- We’re making a list of top people (higher up and less likely to come to a workshop) with whom we need to have face-to-face meetings (with the help of our new contacts at the BBC and Channel 4)
- Radio 1 and Radio 4 are both doing pieces with and/or about the trans community after the workshop
- We’ve had several concrete requests from media professionals at the workshop about how we can help them in the future
- Lots of other ideas that are going into plans for the new year…
All for now.