BBC is too politically correct, say working-class audiences

Ricky Gervais
Viewers miss the likes of Ricky Gervais and Jeremy Clarkson - Paul Drinkwater / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty

Working-class audiences find the BBC too politically correct and lacking in “unvarnished opinion”, an Ofcom study has found.

Programmes were deemed too “dry and serious”, while popular sitcoms had been replaced by “cringey” attempts at Gen Z humour. Viewers missed the likes of Ricky Gervais and Jeremy Clarkson, the regulator said.

Research found that the broadcaster is considered out of touch on presenter pay and its portrayal of working-class characters can be “stereotypical or tokenistic”.

The regulator carried out the survey of people from working-class and lower-income households after becoming concerned that only 55 per cent of them have a positive opinion of the BBC in Ofcom surveys, compared to 67 per cent of middle-class professionals.

Ofcom said: “A key issue, raised by a number of people that we spoke to, was that BBC programming is increasingly seen as dry and serious compared to other PSB channels [public service broadcasters such as ITV] and the major streaming services.

“BBC content was also seen as increasingly ‘safe’ and, by some, overly politically correct.

“The shift was seen as having a particularly negative effect on the BBC’s comedy output. Many of our participants felt the BBC used to produce world-leading comedy content but that this is now often seen as not edgy enough for modern tastes.

“They miss the ‘fun’ element of the BBC’s programming.”

BBC aware of the concern

BBC commissioners told Ofcom that they were aware of this concern.

On the subject of representation, many of those surveyed said there was little representation of their real lives on television, and of working-class people in programmes.

On presenter pay, Ofcom said: “The reported salaries of some BBC presenters contributed to a sense that the BBC is out of touch with ordinary people, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis.”

Requiring presenters to “toe the party line” and not speak freely, Ofcom said, meant that “the BBC was seen as unable to keep pace with the kinds of unvarnished opinion that the people that we spoke to said they sought out from video sharing platforms, social media and established commercial radio stations.”

One presenter who has spoken his mind is Nihal Arthanayake, the Radio 5 Live presenter who this week said that his mental health was affected by his “overwhelmingly white” working environment.

In response to the comments, made at a journalism diversity conference, a BBC spokesperson told The Telegraph: “Events like this one are instrumental in bringing new talent in as we work towards making our organisation as inclusive as possible.

“We want everyone who works at the BBC – and those considering a career with us – to know we are focused on creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong.

“We believe we should be setting the highest standards on diversity and we recognise that there is still more we could do, therefore we have clear plans in place to improve the diversity of our workforce.”

People have left ‘because they couldn’t deal with the culture’

The presenter, who is of Sri Lankan descent, told the conference at the BBC’s headquarters in Salford that he had seen “a lot of people leave this building because they couldn’t deal with the culture”.

He claimed that his colleagues’ response when he told them this was to reply defensively that they were not being racist, as he added that this response was missing the point.

Speaking at the event’s “Fireside chat” with Jo Adetunji, editor of The Conversation UK, Mr Arthanayake also said he doesn’t think there is “a single Muslim” involved in the senior editorial processes at BBC Radio 5 Live.

He went on: “The hardest thing is to walk into a room, look around and nobody looks like you.”

His criticism of the corporation’s diversity during Wednesday’s conference has enlisted a backlash online with comments suggesting that if the same was said about a minority group, it would be branded as racism.

The latest BBC workforce diversity figures, according to the media watchdog Ofcom’s annual report, shows that between 2020-21 and 2021-22 the total number of minority ethnic people working at the corporation increased from 13 to 15 per cent.

This stands as above average to the working age population of the UK from 2021-2022, in which 13 per cent were recorded as being from minority ethnic groups.

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC reaches more adults from low socio-economic groups than any other provider and Ofcom has welcomed the BBC’s ongoing efforts to increase representation and deliver more authentic portrayal across its output. We will continue to work hard to deliver a mix of brilliant content on TV, radio and online that reflects and represents everyone in the UK.”

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