Posted on November 22, 2019

New Colors of BBC Broadcasting? Accusations of Racism Hit Popular Apprentice TV Program

Martyn Andrews, RT, November 22, 2019

The online world exploded this week as the BBC series ‘The Apprentice’ was accused of racism. ‘Boss’ Lord Alan Sugar told a Venezuelan contestant: “No wonder your country is in a state, it’s because it’s full of people like you.”

This adds to the controversy that has flooded the popular British TV series this year, as seven BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) candidates have been fired from the BBC show in as many weeks (“fired” is the term used when a candidates leaves).

Television is a changing landscape in the UK. TV soap opera Coronation Street is a national institution in the UK and is sold to dozens of TV networks worldwide. With millions of viewers, Corrie has recently welcomed its first black family in the show’s 59-year history.

ITV, the TV channel that produces the ongoing evening drama, wanted to reflect that modern day Manchester, is a large melting pot of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. This follows a 2017 report by UK media regulator Ofcom, revealing that ethnic minorities, disabled people and women are all under-represented in the industry.

With British broadcasters eager to portray authentic lives and communities in 2019, over the past two years it’s been a race to cast BAME talent (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) in dramas, reality and entertainment TV shows.

The popular British baking series ‘Bake Off’ on Channel 4 and the ongoing BBC success ‘The Apprentice’ have followed suit. But controversy has flooded Alan Sugar’s The Apprentice series this year, with seven BAME candidates fired from the BBC show in as many weeks.

In one episode, Sugar, the focal character in the series, told a Venezuelan participant: “No wonder your country is in a state, it’s because it’s full of people like you.”With such comments being aired and so many ethnic minority participants leaving the annual competition, mass outrage has exploded on social media – is The Apprentice racist? Why have all the non-white candidates been fired?

TV producers who work on the show state it’s just show-business and the removal of such contestants is merely a coincidence. Critics and fans of the show are not impressed, with a online petition stating this year’s series has been marked by racism and bullying.

Meanwhile, candidate Ryan-Mark Parsons, the latest contestant fired from the TV show, has shut down the racism row made against Alan Sugar, branding them as “absolutely ridiculous” and adding “when I see accusations that people are being fired because of how they look, it’s completely ridiculous. Sugar fired people based on performance alone”.

Sugar states that the controversy is merely a storm in a teacup. It seems a week doesn’t go by where another British TV show isn’t accused of racism. Channel 4’s recent TV show The British Tribe Next Door saw reality star Scarlett Moffatt live with a Namibian tribe. Many viewers called the show gimmicky, offensive and a racist cringe fest.

But, while the debate continues over the delicate issue of race, box-ticking and the casting practices on television shows in the UK, according to a Guardian report in 2018, in comparison to 18 percent of white people, 43 percent of ethnic minority (BAME) workers feel that they have been overlooked for a work promotion or job application.

With those statistics, perhaps it is not just a coincidence that The Apprentice TV show this year is left with mainly white cast members – or is it simply an overreaction and reflects just how the TV dice rolls?

Being in danger of labeling everyone and creating an obsession with where we are from and what we look like, yes, broadcsters’ BAME remits are important to represent real life, but when it’s an all-white cast or an all-black cast, maybe that should be allowed, too, without mass hysteria….Or our media and entertainment industry will end up on a slippery slope to where everything might end up….. being offensive.