Posts By / Richard Wallis

Disability and the TV industry research report

As the Paralympic Games comes to Channel 4 and with disability emerging as a major theme at this week’s Edinburgh Television Festival, BU’s Faculty of Media & Communication publishes its latest industry research findings: Disability by Design: Representation in TV. Described as an “amazing report” by Jack Thorne during his powerful MacTaggart Lecture on Monday evening, the study was based on a survey of more than 200 disabled television workers.  Researchers found that almost 60% of its industry respondents had experienced ableism or discrimination in the workplace. Almost half had faced ableist language and microaggressions and around a quarter reported being bullied or harassed.

The report goes on to suggest that employers are too often “blithely disengaged” from their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, identifying a “fundamental lack of understanding at the top”. More than a third of respondents reported that employers had failed even to ask about their basic access needs. The report calls for mandatory training for all employers, for all broadcasters to have dedicated disabled diversity and inclusion execs and to commit to upskill mid- to senior-level talent.

The research was commissioned by campaign group Deaf and Disabled People in TV and sponsors include the unions Equity and Bectu. The report was written by Christa van Raalte, Richard Wallis and David Pekalski (the same team that authored the recent assessment of management practices in unscripted television).

 


The full report can be downloaded from here:

van Raalte, C., Wallis, R. and Pekalski, D., 2021. Disability by Design: Representation in TV. Technical Report. Poole, England: Bournemouth University.

Experience of work in the UK’s TV industry – full report

This week sees the publication of the Faculty of Media & Communication’s report State of Play 2021: Management Practices in UK Unscripted Television. Described by Marcus Ryder MBE as one of the most comprehensive industry assessments in years, the report is the culmination of eight months of qualitative data analysis from a survey of people working in the unscripted sector of the UK’s TV industry. A preliminary report, based on only the quantitative findings, was published in January. This week’s full report – a document of some 100-pages – gives context, colour and detail to the worrying statistics. The picture it paints is one of a troubled industry urgently in need of reform.

Welcoming the report, Philippa Childs, Head of the union Bectu said:

“The State of Play report details the underlying problems facing freelancers in the TV industry, which give rise to shocking rates of bullying and harassment and a continuing lack of diversity in the industry.”

Whilst in many ways, UK television has been a great national success story, this success has been at the expense of those who work in the industry. The report describes experiences that would not be tolerated in any other business. The casualisation of the workforce has devolved employer risk, ultimately, to individual freelancers who have little or no protection for their own livelihoods or wellbeing. Work is characterised by last minute job bookings and last-minute cancellations; extended hours without breaks or compensation; discrimination; nepotism; sexual harassment; and workplace bullying beside the prevailing precarity that makes it almost impossible for them to challenge any of these conditions. The report, which makes six major recommendations with implications for both government policy and structural change within the industry, will feature in a panel discussion at next week’s Edinburgh Television Festival.

The UK television industry’s Broadcast magazine covered the story on Monday 16 August 2021.


The full report can be downloaded from here:

van Raalte, C., Wallis, R. and Pekalski, D., 2021. State of Play 2021: Management Practices in UK Unscripted Television. Technical Report. Poole, UK: Bournemouth University.

 

New research about deaf and disabled people in TV

In a follow-up to BU’s recent research investigating the current state of the UK television industry’s workforce (State of Play), we are excited to be working once again with the TV union Bectu. This time we are examining the experience of disability, joining forces with the actors’ union Equity, and the group Deaf and Disabled People who work in TV (DDPTV).

Disability by design: Representation in TV – our new survey launched earlier this week – is part of a wider effort to address concerns about the under-representation of deaf and disabled professionals in the TV workforce. The outcome of our survey will help to inform approaches to amplify the voices of deaf and disabled professionals, educate on legal obligations and provide examples of lived experience. The project is part of an evolving package of work within FMC focused on the experience of media work (and work in the television industry in particular) which is highlighting some of the more problematic and often overlooked structural issues that beset these industries.

For further information about this and related research into work in the TV industry, contact Dr Christa van Raalte or Dr Richard Wallis.

BU study reveals scale of bullying and harassment in TV industry

The role and social importance of TV and film during this pandemic has been much commented on. But how healthy is this industry? The good news is that this sector has been expanding at more than three times the rate of the wider economy, generating an annual trade surplus of almost £1 billion.  The less good news is that this expansion has been at the expense of its most valuable resource – its skilled workforce.  The preliminary report from our State of Play survey, undertaken shortly before Christmas and published today (11 January 2021) contains some shocking revelations.  The picture to emerge is one of an industry rife with unfair recruitment practices, a chronic lack of diversity, poor management, lack of professional development opportunities, entry-level exploitation (including unpaid work), mental health issues, and susceptibility to a culture of bullying… The list is a long and depressing one.  As one participant told us:

“I’m leaving the industry after twenty years. Had enough of bad practices. e.g. Bullying execs, relentless criticism, toxic working environments, stress, long working hours, not feeling valued, bad effect on my own mental health. No career development possibilities, no security.”

More than a third of our respondents told us they would have chosen differently had they known at the start of their career what they now know. It’s a far cry from the more familiar narrative about the joys of being creative, and work associated with self-actualisation. A summary of these findings has been published by Broadcast today.

None of this will come as much of a shock to scholars in the field of media industry studies (or indeed those of the Creative Industries more broadly).  The past decade has seen a steady flow of research suggesting that all is not well.  What has changed since the arrival of Covid-19, is that people are now seem to be much more willing to talk about it.  For a long time there has been a reluctance to discuss these systemic issues outside the academic community, and a tendency to dismiss them as ‘just the way the industry works’.  The publication of this report comes at a time when many in the industry are finally asking the question ‘why does it have to be the way the industry works?’  That makes it an exciting time for media industry scholars to be contributing to the debate.

The State of Play survey is a collaboration between BU’s Faculty of Media and Communication, the industry union Bectu, and the professional association Viva La PD. Bectu and Viva La PD are currently engaged in crucial discussions with major broadcasters, streamers and production companies, for which this research will provide critical insight.

The State of Play preliminary report is available here.

 

New study of management & recruitment in UK TV industry

This week sees the launch of The State of Play survey, an important new study into management and recruitment practices across the UK’s television industry. The initiative is a collaboration between colleagues in the Faculty of Media & Communication, the television union Bectu, and the freelance Producer-Directors’ association, Viva La PD.

It’s an exciting development’ says Christa van Raalte, Deputy Dean for Education & Professional Practice in the Faculty. ‘BU has long been known for the graduates who go on to work in the media, but we also have an important contribution to make to improving the way these industries actually operate’.

Prior to the pandemic, the UK’s film and television sector had been generating an annual trade surplus of almost £1 billion. Yet Covid-19 has exposed systemic and routinely overlooked problems. Chronic under-investment in professional development and over-dependence on an army of freelance workers has made it especially vulnerable. These workers – reliant on precarious, short-term contractual employment – have faced months without work, with over half ineligible for any Government support. Many may be permanently lost to the industry, exacerbating both pre-existing skills shortages and the industry’s well-documented lack of diversity. However the crisis has also been instrumental in raising awareness of structural weaknesses, previously unacknowledged by many industry leaders. This presents an unprecedented opportunity for much needed reform.

The study draws on previous work that BU has done in this area, and feeds into a larger piece of work for which external funding is currently being sought.

For more information about The State of Play survey, contact:
Richard Wallis (rwallis@bournemouth.ac.uk)
Department of Media Production, FMC.

The value of an industry-oriented degree

There’s an irony in the fact that the more industry-oriented and practice-based degree programmes thought to be necessary for rebuilding our economy, are among those that present most challenges when it comes to reimagining Higher Education for a post Covid-19 world. In having to review what we teach, and how we teach it, we have inevitably found ourselves returning to more fundamental questions of purpose and value. It’s amazing how recent assertions about “low-value” degrees, based on graduate earnings, seem so strangely anachronistic on a Thursday night in “lockdown Britain”. In a recent post for WonkHE, we discuss what we can learn from how our own graduates’ attribute value to their undergraduate experience, from the perspective of post-university employment.

Media industries haemorrhage experience

Richard Wallis writes:

A new study of Media Production graduates’ long-term career trajectories exposes industry’s high levels of wastage.

Like consumable goods that come labelled with a ‘best before’ date, it seems that media careers may also come with a limited shelf-life. Research published this week suggests that media industries have a problem with long-term retention. The study is one of a series we have undertaken to investigate the career trajectories of our students. The more that we understand about their post-BU working lives, the better we can prepare them for the world of work, and the more effectively we can be the critical friend providing much-needed thought-leadership for industry.

The study took as its focus the BA Media Production (BAMP) ‘Class of ‘95’: the cohort of Media Production students who arrived at Bournemouth at the point at which the institution received its university status. These BU first-generation graduates are now in mid-career, and their working lives have spanned a period of unprecedented upheaval within the industries that they aspired to work in. The study has exposed a feature of media work that has wider implications for the way media industries operate.

We have long known that media work is not for the faint-of-heart, and that the transition from University into work can be extremely challenging. Many previous studies (including our own) have attempted to examine some of the difficulties graduates face, particularly during the early stages of their careers. In this study we set out to understand the way in which the demands of media work are experienced through the prism of age, and life stage. We were able to interview a sample of 28 of these graduates: just over one third of the ’95 cohort.

What we learned surprised us. We had thought that the major challenges of media work were those experienced in early career. What we found caused us to question this presumption. Although we confirmed much of what previous studies have highlighted about early careers, sustaining the relentless pressures of such work over the longer-term transpired to be just as significant a problem. Many of our contributors talked fondly, and sometimes passionately, about work they had found to be enormously rewarding, but this ‘labour of love’ had become increasingly difficult to sustain over time. The rate of attrition by mid-career is striking. This presents an important challenge to the media industries. Whilst they become increasingly reliant on well-educated, highly motivated neophytes who are inexpensive, willing, and able to be flexible and self-exploiting, they are heamorrhaging experience, honed skills, and organizational memory. This is a development that, ultimately, cannot be for the good of the individual worker, the media organisations in which they work, or the Creative Industries as a sector.

 

See: Wallis, R., van Raalte, C. and Allegrini, S. (2019) The ‘shelf-life’ of a media career: a study of the long-term career narratives of media graduates. Creative Industries Journal https://doi.org/10.1080/17510694.2019.1664099