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Robert beckford

The Stirrer revealed yesterday plans by leaders of the black community in the West Midlands to lobby the BBC’s director general Mark Thomson, following the departure of presenter Robert Beckford. Here’s the first interview with Beckford since his decision to leave.

BBC WM’s religious presenter Robert Beckford is quitting the station after bosses snubbed his bid for a pay rise - and he warned that by allowing him to leave, managers were sending an “aggressive” signal to the black community.

Beckford’s Sunday morning show attracted the day’s best listening figures, but he says that when he came to discuss a new contract with the station’s temporary editor Sue Owen his achievements were ignored.

“I’d improved the audience, and felt there should be some reward, but there was no extra money. With inflation, that’s effectively a pay cut.

“I’ve got to balance family life with my commitments and the reward I get. In this case the rewards offered suggest that what I was doing was not taken seriously, or at least was not fully appreciated.”

The academic who grew up in Birmingham also makes documentaries for Channel 4, and has no gripe with Owen, but admits that he’d clashed with her boss Keith Beech - normally station editor, but currently acting up as Head of Regional Programmes.

Beckford says the station has failed to nurture staff from African-Caribbean backgrounds, and that it ignores the needs of the black community by broadcasting just a single, two hour programme for them each week.

“Look at what they are doing” he said. “With Less Ross moving to the afternoons, they’ve promoted a white, middle class pensioner, but they are happy to see a working class African-Caribbean man leave.

“There is a danger that they will be seen as aggressive, not progressive.”

BBC WM hit back by claiming that it offers ten hours of programming each week for the African-Caribbean community, and employs five presenters from the community.

They also say that their work in Aston helped volunteers set up a local radio station, while attempts to promote community cohesion in Lozells have won a national award.

As for Beckford, a spokesman said: “We utterly refute any suggestion that Robert was ‘pushed’ or that race played any part in this decision”.

He added: “BBC WM has a clear commitment to promoting inclusivity and valuing diversity.”

(This article also appears in today’s Birmingham Mail.)

To see yesterday’s article click here.

Does the BBC fail to meet the needs of the diverse communities of the West Midlands? Or is it a multicultural success story? Leave a comment on our messageboard.

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