By Dr So Mayer, Raising Films

THE last four months have witnessed unprecedented public scrutiny of the film and television industry. Not only harassment and bullying, but also their enabling and cover-ups, have been revealed. And a unique public conversation is now unfolding about the stories that shape us: how they get made, and who gets to make them. #TimesUp, in the words of the new American foundation that will challenge and expose harassment and abuse across many industries.

So it is heartening that, in response to this historic moment, the British Film Institute (BFI) has worked with all the major players in the UK’s film and television industry to generate a set of eight principles, accompanied by more detailed guidelines. Negotiating a set of principles and practical guidelines between so many stakeholders is a challenge – one that needed to be met. The last few years have seen significant reports, preceding the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men in the industry, that show persistent inequality and discrimination. The BFI notes that “understanding what constitutes unacceptable behaviour is an important step in establishing an inclusive culture for all aspects of the screen industries”. It is thus essential that the principles and guidelines are widely recognised and rigorously enacted if the industry is to change.

Therefore, we at Raising Films agree with Andrew Chowns, the CEO of Directors UK, who commented that “this is a positive first step but there is more to do to effect a dramatic cultural shift within the industry”. The principles and guidelines offer clear, if basic, guidance on avoiding harassment, but do too little to establish accountability. The first principle suggests that everyone in the workplace is equally responsible for prevention: we believe, however, that bullying and harassment are top-down, and the principles should reflect this.

The structural power that enables harassment is insidious, but not invisible. We collated the evidence for the systemic operations of discrimination and harassment in our 2017 report Raising Our Game, which emerged from a BFI-funded project researching conditions for parents and carers in the industry. As we documented, the penalties for speaking out can be severe. While the principles call for prevention of reprisals, there are no guarantees in an industry where hiring is largely informal and reputational. Our report showed that the Equality Act 2010 (cited by BFI in their second principle) lacks a robust framework for implementation – and moreover, the Act does not cover the complex, precarious nature of work in the creative industries.

To cover this gap, we created anti-discrimination checklists for film workplaces – but we also called for robust, comprehensive and binding measures to be put in place by the industry itself. While BFI funding will be contingent on the guidelines, they do not describe the reporting mechanism that will establish a company’s adherence. We want these guidelines to work, but need more specific and practical details for achieving zero tolerance. That requires accountability, transparency and impact. To this end, we call for a body to ensure industry-wide accountability, in the form of an ombudsperson or arbitrator with the capacity to ensure that harassment, discrimination and abuse are consequential.

These principles and guidelines are not the finish line, but the starting pistol: the BFI and its partners have committed to revising the principles and guidelines every six months, an excellent first step towards scrutiny. We, along with many other industry groups, will therefore continue to speak out, to push the industry to revise and strengthen their policies, and to commit fully to the principles they themselves have laid out.