Event Review: The Royal Television Society Programme Awards

On Tuesday 15th March, I was invited by The TV Collective to the b, a ceremony to celebrate and honour not only the programmes that graced our screens in 2010 but also the talent that is behind the camera.

Peter Bazalgette, President of the RTS, gave an opening address which shot down claims that advances in digital technology would be the death of television. Now in some respects I agree; television has the potential like no other medium to reach mass audiences, for proof of that all you have to do is look at the viewing figures of hit shows like The X-Factor or Strictly. However, I’m excited by technology, the digital realm and the opportunities it presents for interactivity, engagement and placing so-called power in the hands of viewers, for example by creating and promoting their own content. Not that this will render television obsolete, but it’s important to not ignore the changes and think about how the two worlds can complement each other. I’m attending the MediaGuardian Changing Media Summit this week, so prepare to hear more about this topic in the near future.

Anyway I digress, back to the awards. How well did ‘diversity’ do? It depends on how you define diversity I guess; if we’re talking about diversity in the form of a range and variety in television programming then yes, the categories themselves allowed for a representation of various subject matters and interests. However if we’re looking at diversity in terms of representation of ethnicity, gender, disability and regions, then it was a mixed bag. Here are a couple of my personal observations.

Women were successful on the night with winners including Miranda (Scripted Comedy, Comedy Performance) as well as off-screen talent with Jo Brand, Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan winning the Writer-Comedy Award for ‘Getting On’. Fear not, women were not just there to provide the giggles; it was great to see females step up to win awards for production and direction such as Gaby Hornsby (The Secret Life of the National Grid) and Philippa Lowthorpe (Five Daughters) respectively.

I was happy to see ‘Welcome to Lagos’ win the award for Single Documentary. While some people thought that the portrayal of Nigerians and Nigeria as a country were negative and unfair, I actually thought it made compelling viewing, the characters were endearing (Vocal Slender is the man!) and it really showed the solidarity and entrepreneurial spirit held by the community despite their adverse circumstances. Now what didn’t sit well with me was that this image of poverty and desperation is one that is reeled out time and time again. There is very little ‘diversity’ in the content when it comes to programmes about Africa; the same themes of famine, war, corruption and desperation prevail. Now I’ve been to Ghana numerous times in my life and know many others who would tell a different story. I’m not denying that these issues exist but what about the other themes – the growing tourism industry for one, the booming film industry is another. I don’t know about you but I think a documentary about Nollywood and its success over the years would make just as compelling viewing. On collecting the award the producer and director made the point that it was a hard sell to get it commissioned in the first place because the subject matter of ‘poor black people in the slums’ doesn’t sound much like a ratings winner. It made me wonder how much more difficult it would have been to get an alternative, non-stereotypical perspective on the screen.

It was a great event to be at, however just looking around the room and the winners list, it is proof that a lot more needs to be done to challenge and change the image of the television industry in that it’s predominantly made up off the ‘old white middle class’. Midsomer Murder digs aside, how can we move forward? ‘The Road to Coronation Street’ producers, who won the award for Single Drama, stressed the importance of encouraging young people to enter and make their way up the industry ladder. This holds some weight as in terms of diversity, children and youth programming appears to grasp the diversity message quite well with Sarah Jane Adventures’ culturally diverse cast winning the award for Childrens as well as nominations for Reggie Yates (Presenter) forBBC Three’s Autistic Superstars, Misfits on E4 (Drama Series) and Something Special on CBeebies (Childrens) which is aimed at children with delayed learning and communication difficulties. What are the barriers to getting new and fresh perspectives commissioned? How can a more diverse range of talent enter through the doors, young and old? How do we break that glass ceiling for women – I think we’re on the way. Let’s not take away from what the television industry and affiliated organisations have already done to challenge the status quo but this time next year it would be great to see even more progress.

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