Trevor Phillips: BBC2 is Britain
Former equality commission chairman to say in speech that Channel 4 privatisation would destroy it as agent of integration

Trevor Phillips
is to criticise the BBC for failing to serve minority audiences and tell the government that privatising Channel 4 would destroy the UK media’s most important force for racial integration.

The former Equality and Human Rights Commission chair is expected to say that BBC2 is “by some distance Britain’s whitest TV station” and the corporation’s news bulletins are failing to appeal to minority audiences.

His comments will come 15 years after the then BBC director general, Greg Dyke, accused the corporation of being “hideously white”.

Phillips’ speech at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday will include an analysis of viewing figures showing that Channel 4 is the only broadcaster managing to appeal to black, Asian and ethnic minority audiences on the same scale as the population as a whole.

According to analysis, BBC2 takes a 5.7% share of the total audience but just 3.3% of black, Asian and ethnic minority viewers, and, while almost 30% of the UK watches the BBC’s Six O’Clock news bulletin, just 15% of BAME viewers do so. In comparison, Channel 4 attracts 5.6% of all viewers and 4.7% of the BAME audience, while its news bulletin gets a 3.2% share of the news audience as a whole but 5.6% of BAME viewers.

Citing Ofcom figures showing dissatisfaction among BAME people with their representation in pubic service broadcasting, Phillips will say: “People of colour are paying nearly a£150 a year for the upkeep of services that actually don’t serve them. I would say that whoever regulates the BBC, that is a question that should be near the top of the charter renewal debate. That’s the political imperative.”

While Phillips will praise Channel 4’s performance, saying it is “doing the best job of leadership right now on the vital work of racial integration,” he will argue privatisation would fatally undermine its ability to serve ethnic minorities.

“We should stop talking about privatising Channel 4,” he will say. “Based on the actual data about how people behave, Channel 4 right now is the most important agent of integration in our national media. Privatisation would destroy that at a stroke.”

The government is considering privatisation as one of a number of options for Channel 4, which is commercially run but owned by the state. One of the key concerns over privatisation is its impact on the news operation, which is not profitable.

The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, has said Channel 4 would retain its remit to serve minority audiences if sold. However, Phillips will say that privatisation would remove incentives to appeal to minority audiences, undermine its ability to provide news that was not available elsewhere, and that “even with an official remit to serve diverse audiences, would do it in a way that was simply tokenistic and unconvincing”.

Phillips will argue privatisation would run counter to David Cameron’s stated aims of tackling racial inequality and division in the UK and said he would expect his successors at the EHRC to demand an “equality impact assessment proving that it does not disadvantage ethnic minority and disabled people”.

He will add: “The stakes are much higher than £1bn that the government might recoup from a sale ... The reason that Channel 4 leads is precisely because it has the combination of constitutional certainty, commercial freedom and political independence legally guaranteed. If we interfere with that trinity, people of colour in Britain will be losing their most trusted voice.”