• Wednesday, June 07, 2023


‘BBC losing true diversity champion’

Bal Samra (Photo Credit: BBC).

By: Radhakrishna N S

By  Barnie Choudhury

BAL SAMRA was never a typi­cal BBC ‘suit’, the term that is used for the corporation’s se­nior managers.

He is a people person, will­ing to help, to volunteer for projects others did not wish to do, and always, unfailingly, crediting his team for success.

Until he departs next year, Samra remains the BBC’s highest-ranking south Asian.

He brought into the corpo­ration commercial acumen from his time at Unilever and Marconi. But be under no illu­sion, his ability to negotiate deals will be a massive loss to the BBC. He started at the bot­tom in corporate finance, but in time, Samra would launch BBC News Online, Radio Five Live, and the BBC iPlayer.

This year, the BBC and ITV launched Britbox, a subscrip­tion platform which offers the best dramas and soaps from the two companies. Favourites such as EastEnders, Corona­tion Street, Dr Who and Down­ton Abbey are included.

Samra led the project for the BBC.

Speaking exclusively to Eastern Eye before announc­ing his decision to leave the corporation after 30 years, he said, “Its [Britbox] fundamen­tal purpose is to have a com­mercial proposition, which is full of British content. That’s so important, in my view, for the whole ecosystem of the UK public service broadcasting.

“Without that, we’re going to have a diminishing focus on British talent, British produc­ers, British content, so it’s a very big partnership.”

The BBC has been criticised this year for systemic, struc­tural and institutional racism after dozens of current and former staff contacted me. It eventually led to MPs on the digital, culture, media and sport select committee asking questions of its new director general, Tim Davie.

So, to lose its most senior south Asian executive will alarm many, and they are right to be concerned. As a story of what the BBC needs when it comes to diversity, Samra is it.

This commercial director never went to the right schools or the right university. In fact, he never went to university. His is a tale of immigrant par­ents who set up a business in the rag trade, moving to Essex as the first non-white family in Tilbury Docks, he said.

Samra is committed to young people and improving their chances through his be­ing a trustee of the Ormiston Academies Trust. It is a not-for-profit, and importantly it runs his old school.

He is also chair of the Story­Futures Academy is the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, run by the Na­tional Film and Television School and Royal Holloway, University of London.

Samra is proud of nurturing talent, harnessing and cham­pioning diversity. In an email he wrote, “Here’s that report I was talking about – just pub­lished. As chair, I was deter­mined to ensure we had diver­sity built into the work of the executive right upfront. Have a skim, you’ll see after two years we’re ahead of targets.”

The person who beat off racists during his school days knows what it is like to be an underdog. And when speaking to Samra, you realise that ethos of helping underdogs is unlikely to ever leave him.

Eastern Eye

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