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BBC presenter says ‘overwhelmingly white’ workplace affects his mental health

BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Nihal Arthanayake has said an “overwhelmingly white” working environment is affecting his mental health.

The presenter told a journalism diversity conference on Wednesday: “It’s really affecting me that I walk in and all I see is white people.”

His colleagues’ response when he told them this was to reply defensively that they were not being racist, he claimed as he said that was missing the point.

2017 Asian Business Awards – London
Nihal Arthanayake said an ‘overwhelmingly white’ working environment is affecting his mental health (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Speaking at the Journalism Diversity Fund (JDF) conference at BBC Media City in Salford, he said: “I’ve seen a lot of people leave this building because they couldn’t deal with the culture.”

He also said others found they had to try to be a certain type of person to progress with the broadcaster, adding: “If you want journalists to progress, they have to be who they are.

“I don’t think there’s a single Muslim involved in the senior editorial processes” at BBC Radio 5 Live, he added.

He went on: “The hardest thing is to walk into a room, look around and nobody looks like you.”

The presenter made the comments in an on-stage interview with Jo Adetunji, editor of The Conversation, at the JDF’s annual equality, diversity and inclusion conference organised by the NCTJ, which trains new journalists.

The JDF awards bursaries to aspiring journalists from diverse backgrounds who do not have the financial means to support themselves through their training.

Mr Arthanayake added that he has noticed a difference since moving north after living in London for 20 years.

He said: “Since moving up here, being called the P-word – that didn’t happen in London.

“You’d get a slap for that in London, not even from me.”

Following the interview, Cheryl Varley, a BBC Radio 5 Live producer, said the organisation is committed to tackling the lack of diversity in its newsrooms.

After inviting the JDF bursary recipients for a tour of the newsroom at the end of the conference, she told them: “The BBC needs you a lot more than you need them because if we do not represent our audience the future for the BBC is grim.“

A BBC spokesperson said: “Events like this one today are instrumental in bringing new talent in as we work towards making our organisation as inclusive as possible.

“We want everyone who works at the BBC, and those considering a career with us, to know we are focussed on creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong.

“We believe we should be setting the highest standards on diversity, and we recognise that there is still more we could do, therefore we have clear plans in place to improve the diversity of our workforce.”