In an unprecedented move, the U.K. television industry is uniting to hold quarterly discussions around working practices for freelancers. The TV Coalition for Change brings together broadcasters such as BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky, as well as union Bectu and producers’ body Pact, among other orgs, in a series of meetings that kick off Tuesday. For Variety, organizers Adeel Amini and Abby C. Kumar discuss their vision for change.
In recent years, TV and film industry behavior has been placed under a blinding spotlight as part of wider social movements. Whether it’s #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, toxic behavior on shows like “Ellen” or COVID-19, it’s clear that huge problems have been ignored and sometimes enabled by the chaotic framework in which producers work.
Breaking these issues down, we realize that they fail to relate to the very fabric of an ideal society and model culture — one that promotes cultural values based on respect, diversity and the ability to work with dignity.
It is with these principles in mind that the Coalition for Change (CFC) was formed. For the first time, key stakeholders in the U.K. TV industry — broadcasters, indies and freelancers — have come to the table with the sole aim to do something about widespread problems in the industry. While “culture change” and “culture reset” have been buzzwords permeating talks and webinars for quite some time, the Coalition demonstrates a positive step forward in making industry-wide improvements a reality.
For the first time, we are openly acknowledging industry shortcomings, and recognizing that there is work to be done on a range of issues: employment and recruitment practices, workplace culture, race and diversity, bullying and harassment, training and talent progression, new talent, mental health and wellbeing. Recognizing they are beasts that loom large, and can only be slain by a creative industry working together, we want to listen to one another and communicate effectively in a solutions-based forum.
The truth is that no single group or organization can solve these problems; the onus is on all of us to tackle these issues. Whether it’s role-modelling culture, putting people on equal standing as productions, or just the knowledge that we are stronger together, the organizations who have signed on are all leaning in to this urgent need to create a professionalized working environment. The potential for the CFC to create a space that makes a significant industry change is immense. In the longer term, it can be a template for other industries of a historically fragmented sector to come together for the greater good.
It’s always easier to stick to the status quo. But what’s being shown by people across the industry is a willingness to not just do things as they have been done, but to evolve, respond to the need of the hour, and commit to change.
While there are specific aims in the Coalition agreement, the overarching mission statement can be broken down into key themes:
1. Professionalize the industry. By formalizing certain practices and reducing the casual nature of our work, we can ensure a solid foundation upon which robust principles can be built.
2. Invest in people. Our industry thrives on creative individuals, but there is a tendency to see those people as disposable and replaceable — often in favor of those with privilege. With more solidified pipelines, new and diverse talent can thrive and therefore safeguard the future of an industry that must constantly reflect and adapt to the world around it.
3. Respecting talent. While investment and stronger foundations are key, so too is the wellbeing of the people who form this industry. The ability to be seen, heard and treated with dignity is a start to maintaining a happier and healthier community.
4. Creating a sustainable ecosystem. We all have our part to play in this industry, whether it’s broadcasters, indies or freelancers. By stepping up to the challenges we all face as one cohesive unit, the Coalition has the potential to be the microcosm of cooperation we would one day like to see in the industry as a whole.
It is also important to remember that this is not a zero sum game. There will be no great loser. There are numerous studies that show that happy, culturally diverse workforces are more efficient and lucrative. A healthy industry benefits everyone mentally, physically and financially.
We all want to work in an industry that role models and innovates. This Coalition is asking the industry to interrogate itself, not just once but repeatedly. It is challenging its leaders to define its very own core values and promote an inspirational, creative culture for its producers to flourish.