TV writers and producers have threatened to boycott plans to measure diversity on television after broadcasters refused to reveal which shows had the worst record for employing people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Under current proposals, a computer system called Project Diamond will gather the ethnic details of staff working on new TV productions and monitor diversity on screen. The data will be published by genres, such as drama or comedy, rather than by individual programme.
But the Writersâ€™ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) and the trade union Bectu have been lobbying broadcasters to give the breakdown of how diverse shows are, even if only in confidence, so they can see where the issues lie. They argue that diversity often improves when a spotlight is shone on specific programmes.
The body which represents broadcasters, the Creative Diversity Network (CDN), has refused, leading WGGB and Bectu to declare they will boycott Project Diamond unless individual programmes are measured.
The decision by the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 comes despite some black writers and producers meeting broadcasters last month to ask for individual shows to be measured as they say they are still encountering racism.
They gave examples including the case of a man called Mohammed who won more work after adopting an English name, a cameraman with a 25-year career who was told he did not have enough experience, and a Bafta-award-winning associate producer who was offered a job as an unpaid runner.
In a letter to the CDN seen by the Guardian, Bectuâ€™s general secretary, Gerry Morrissey, questioned whether broadcasters had refused to single out individual shows for fear of embarrassment and said it was â€œnonsenseâ€ that legal difficulties prevented disclosure at programme level.
Morrissey added: â€œBy far the biggest problem is the attitudes and hiring practices of the gatekeepers. Too many hirers are unable to believe that minority ethnic professionals are capable of doing the job, no matter how much experience or how successful.
â€œTo address this, Project Diamond must publish the equality monitoring data by production so that we can identify who has a diverse crew, and can learn from their example, and who does not, so we can work with them to improve.â€
The WGGBâ€™s acting general secretary, Ellie Peers, added: â€œProject Diamond is a golden opportunity for positive change within our industry but only if there is transparency.â€
The CDN said broadcasters had examined closely the proposals for publishing programme data but had decided against it â€œgiven the considerable legal complexities and practical constraints involvedâ€. It added: â€œSafeguarding privacy and data security are paramount concerns for Diamond.â€
Project Diamond was created in the wake of high profile complaints that the TV industry was failing to reflect British diversity. In 2015, Lenny Henry called for legislation to increase the â€œappallingâ€ percentage of black and minority ethnic people in the creative industries.
Diversity campaigners have argued that when shows are revealed as having failed to meet diversity standards, as ITV drama Midsomer Murders was in 2011 when its producer left having said it â€œwouldnâ€™t workâ€ if there was any racial diversity on the show, the situation often improves.
One Bectu member told the Guardian he had been excluded from some work for raising issues about race. â€œPeople just write it off as an aberration or say itâ€™s not a serious issue, that itâ€™s to do with class rather than race,â€ they said. â€œThere is also a climate of fear around it: if you start raising issues you can become isolated.â€
The boycott comes in the same week that Ofcomâ€™s chief executive, Sharon White, said there should be tougher regulation to ensure the BBC and other broadcasters reflect the diversity of the UK. Meanwhile, the actor Meera Syal described the BBC drama Three Girls, about the Rochdale abuse scandal, as an example of the failure to treat Asians as â€œpeople, not issuesâ€.