On 1st September Friends, Families and Travellers and 26 organisations and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people working in the creative industries wrote to June Sarpong OBE, the Director of Creativity at the BBC calling on the BBC to lay out how they can improve Gypsy, Roma and Traveller representation in their Creative Diversity Commitment.
In June, the BBC announced that they would make £100 million of funding available to commission diverse and inclusive content across the next three years and to share a range of diverse stories.
Our letter to June Sarpong asks whether the BBC has plans to include Gypsy, Roma and Traveller voices in their future commissioning and how we can work together to improve representation. The content of the letter can be found below:
“Dear June Sarpong OBE,
We write as a collective of individuals and organisations from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller civil society, artists, writers, journalists, producers, performers and creatives to welcome news of the BBC’s Creative Diversity Commitment which we understand will prioritise £100m of your existing commissioning budget over three years towards diverse and inclusive content.
Over 1 in 200 people in the UK are from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, but it is extremely rare to see Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals represented on screen or in the press outside of sensationalised TV documentaries, reality TV and news reports of unauthorised encampments.
We rarely, if ever, see Gypsy, Roma or Traveller characters in soaps or TV programmes where characters have been included on their own merit, rather than to create a storyline around their ethnicity. This paints the inaccurate picture that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are not part of British society and don’t integrate with other members of society.
When we do see Gypsy, Roma and Traveller characters on TV, they often play to stereotypes around criminality or exoticness, fail to understand the distinguishing features between Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and are rarely played by Gypsy, Roma or Traveller people.
In almost all occasions, stories about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are written and told by people aren’t themselves Gypsy, Roma or Traveller. In the words of Richard O’Neill, “You take our language and mangle it, our stories and mis-tell them and in doing so only entrench negative stereotypes and take opportunities from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller writers”.
Portrayals of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the media do immense damage to individuals in the real world. According to research conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2018, 44% of British adults openly express ‘negative’ attitudes toward Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, the most of any protected characteristic group in England. According to research by the Traveller Movement, police officers consider hate crime to be the most common issue Gypsies, Roma and Travellers report to them, but data collected by Report Racism GRT shows that less than 15% of hate incidences are reported to police.
We know that the media can reinforce prejudice and stereotypes, but also that it can be a force for good – challenging discrimination and bigotry. We believe that the BBC’s Creative Diversity Commitment represents an important opportunity to improve diversity and inclusion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the media industry.
We want to ask you – what are your plans for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inclusion in the BBC’s Creative Diversity Commitment? We would like to jointly agree on a plan for elevating Gypsy, Roma and Traveller voices and providing opportunities for exposure and progression within the BBC.
We would really like to meet with you and discuss how we think you can help to change the tide for representation of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the media. We know that there are countless numbers of people with immense talent within the communities who are ready to tell their own stories.
Sarah Mann, Director, Friends, Families and Travellers
Carmen Chaplin, Actor, Writer, Director
Charles Newland, Producer and Director
Corrina Joseph, Project Manager, Roma in the Lead at Red Zebra
Dezider Horvath, Director of Romani Slovak Czech Community CIC
Elizabeth Spaven, Chair of Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange and Helen Jones, CEO Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange
Emma Smith, Director, Liverpool Irish Festival
Grace Claire O’Neill, Photographer and Writer
Ilinca Diaconescu, Policy and Campaigns Coordinator, London Gypsies and Travellers
Isaac Blake, Director, The Romani Cultural Arts Company
Jake Bowers, Romany Journalist and Filmmaker
John Henry Phillips, Filmmaker, Writer and Archaeologist
Jonathan Herbert, Church of England Chaplain to Gypsies Travellers and Showpeople
Josie O’Driscoll, CEO, GATE Herts
Julie Colman, Projects and Operations Manager, Travellers’ Times
Lynne Tammi, National Co-ordinator, Article 12 in Scotland
Nathalie Bennett, CEO, Gypsylife
Paul Boucher, Director, Lincolnshire Traveller Initiative
Richard O’Neill, Storyteller and internationally published Author and Playwright
Rosa Cisneros, Artist, Researcher, Curator, Film-maker
Sherrie Smith, Gypsy and Travellers Empowerment Essex
Siobhan Spencer, Trustee, National Federation Gypsy Liaison Groups
Shannon Nolan, Actress
Sylvia Ingmire, CEO Roma Support Group
Violet Cannon, CEO York Travellers’ Trust and Author
Win Lawlor, Strategic Policy and Partnerships Manager at Irish Community Care
Yvonne Macnamara, Chief Executive, Traveller Movement”
Notes for Editor
About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)
Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works on behalf of all Gypsies, Roma and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.
Lucy Hetherington, Communications Officer
Tel: 07425 419853 Email: [email protected]