Broadcaster June Sarpong has been appointed the BBC’s new director of creative diversity days after the corporation was nearly dragged into a race row over its handling of a viewer complaint.
The BBC said the former Channel 4 presenter “will lead a renewed drive to further transform and modernise the BBC and its culture”.
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“She will work to increase representation and ensure that our content reflects the public we serve,” it added.
The corporation has confirmed that Sarpong’s remit includes BBC News.
Sarpong described her task as “daunting”, but said the “opportunity to help level the playing field for the next generation of diverse talent” made it worthwhile.
Her appointment comes after BBC director general Tony Hall overturned a complaint ruling against Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty on Monday amid criticism of its rigid impartiality rules when applied to racism.
Mucnhetty said that, in her experience, comments such as those by Donald Trump telling a group of US congresswomen of colour to “go back ” to the countries “from which they came”, were “embedded in racism”.
The BBC partially upheld a viewer complaint about the July show, ruling that Munchetty had commented critically on the possible motive for Trump’s remarks, adding such judgments are “for the audience to make”.
A group of prominent black broadcasters signed an open letter condemning the ruling and calling for the corporation to “address their own levels of diversity and increase transparency as to how they reach their decisions…”.
Among the signatories were Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, entertainer Lenny Henry and author Afua Hirsch.
In her new role, Sarpong will work to increase representation at the BBC with a focus on improving the diversity of on-air BBC talent and content commissioning, the broadcaster said.
She will also develop diversity strategies, serve as an ambassador for the BBC within the media industry and business and lead the BBC’s relationship with Ofcom around creative queries.
Sarpong is an advocate for workplace diversity and has written two books on the issue. She was awarded an MBE in 2007 for services to broadcasting and charity.
She begins her role, which will run for two years initially, from 1 November this year, working three days a week for the BBC while continuing her work as a broadcaster, including as a panellist on Sky’s The Pledge debate show.
Sarpong said she was “humbled” to take on the role, adding: “I relish the challenge of working with senior leadership to make the BBC more inclusive and representative of the broad and diverse audience it serves.
“The task is indeed daunting, however being awarded the opportunity to help level the playing field for the next generation of diverse talent, makes the obstacles and discrimination I have personally faced throughout my own career all the more worthwhile.
“I look forward to collaborating with diversity and inclusion industry stakeholders to find new and productive ways to create systemic change.”
Lord Hall added: “While we have made significant progress on diversity, we also have to accept that the BBC has much further to go.
“June’s drive, ambition, and know-how, will help further transform the BBC’s programming to ensure that we truly reflect the public we serve…
“She will have a wide remit to deliver change, and I have no doubt that with her help and leadership, we will deliver it.
“I am determined that we have a BBC that continues to speak to and for everyone. June will help us achieve that.”
Sarpong told a media industry event in 2017 that the industry was “losing out” as a result of a “huge lack of diversity”.