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‘You’re not what our viewers are looking for’ - Norwich MP Clive Lewis attacks “institutional racism” at the BBC

PUBLISHED: 08:08 10 November 2015 | UPDATED: 08:37 11 November 2015

Clive Lewis worked for the BBC before standing and winning the Norwich South seat for Labour this year. Photo: Steve Adams

Clive Lewis worked for the BBC before standing and winning the Norwich South seat for Labour this year. Photo: Steve Adams

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Norwich MP Clive Lewis has said he believes there could be “institutional racism” within the BBC and questioned whether his colour prevented him presenting news bulletins when he worked at the corporation.

Clive Lewis at Prime Minister's Questions. He made the claims of racism at the BBC at an event organised by the National Union of Journalists.Clive Lewis at Prime Minister's Questions. He made the claims of racism at the BBC at an event organised by the National Union of Journalists.

Mr Lewis, who won Norwich South for Labour in May, spent more than a decade with the BBC.

He started out as a trainee and later became BBC Look East’s chief political reporter, before his switch to politics.

But, at an event organised by the National Union of Journalists, Mr Lewis said he felt he had hit a “glass ceiling” at the BBC, when he was denied the chance to present Look East afternoon bulletins.

He said of a manager: “I was hassling him about why I had been at the BBC for so many years and yet wasn’t being given the same opportunity as my white colleagues who were coming in – who I didn’t think were more talented – being put in front of screen and presenting.

“He said in a burst of anger, ‘look, you are just not what our viewers are looking for.’

“I said, “I beg your pardon?” He realised what he’d said and backtracked and tried to apologise.

“It shows the kind of barriers black and ethnic minority individuals face.”

Speaking after that event, Mr Lewis said: “Some people might turn around and say that I might not have had what it took to present a bulletin, but if I was not good enough, why did that manager not feel able to say they felt that? It makes you doubt your own self-confidence.

“It might just have been that I wasn’t good enough, but it also led me to ask myself if other factors were involved.

“I am not saying any of my managers were racist, but I am saying that potentially, there is institutional racism at the BBC.

“I have spoken to other black people at the BBC and it is something many feel. While it may not be an overt issue, you only have to look at the statistics.

“I think the BBC acknowledges it has a problem in terms of diversity and I think it’s fair to raise these concerns.

“I think I am a critical friend of the BBC. I always want it to do better. There is clearly an issue there and it needs to be dealt with.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “This is not a picture of the BBC we recognise.

“The proportion of staff from ethnic minority backgrounds is at an all-time high but we want to go further and believe our ambitious range of plans will make a real difference to diversity on and off air.”

The corporation said its recruitment process for all roles is based on a fair and competitive process and there was no truth in any suggestion Mr Lewis was not appointed to a role because of racial discrimination.

What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.


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