Time Out – 23/30 April 2003

Report Rebecca Taylor Photography Darren Regnier

The Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards were set up six years ago to celebrate cultural diversity in the media. And attitudes have a come a long way since. But have they come far enough?

Ten years have passed since the murder of Stephen Lawrence while he waited for a bus one night in April on a south London street. In the ensuing decade, the nature of the debate about racism in British society has changed irrevocably.

For Bobby Syed (left), founder of the NatWest Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards (EMMAs), the Lawrence murder was a turning point. “It had a phenomenal impact on me. I was saddened by the media focus on the negative representation concerning ethnic minorities, and wanted to create more of a balanced reflection of the contribution we make here,” says Syed, who is launching the month-long festival focusing on diversity in the arts that will run throughout May, prior to the EMMA ceremony.

Syed, who is half Arab and half Pakistani, grew up in Dulwich, down the road from where Lawrence was murdered. He set up the EMMAs in 1997 to celebrate diversity across all aspects of the media. This year finalists include Ms Dynamite, Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Dirty Pretty Things”) and ITN newscaster Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

“When I set up the EMMAs, I found it absurd that minority issues were handled by the mainstream without having enough minorities working within the industry itself. All that EMMA was about was creating role models. It was the only way to take on the conservative media industry on its own terms,” says Syed.

So, has anything changed in the way the media handles race issues since then? In the wake of the Macpherson report on institutional racism that followed the Lawrence murder, in 2000, the major broadcasters set up The Cultural Diversity Network to tackle ethnic minority representation both on and off screen. But a report by the Broadcasting Standards Commission in November 2002 found that while the proportion of programmes on the five channels containing people from ethnic minority groups had increased, it was largely confined to black African-Caribbean representation. According to the survey, the portrayal of people from the Indian subcontinent has not improved. It also found that those within the industry still considered achieving diversity in the workplace the biggest challenge the broadcasters were facing. These conclusions are supported by the latest figures from Skillset, the skills council for broadcast film and video media, which show that in London, although ethnic minorities make up nearly a quarter of the working population, they account for only 8.6 per cent of employees and 7.3 per cent of free lancers in the audio-visual industry. According to the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) print journalism lags even further behind.

While household names such as Trevor McDonald, Ali G, Rageh Omaar and ‘The Kumars at No. 42’ are proof that we have moved on from the sort of ‘Mind Your Language’ stereotypes of the past, there is clearly still a long way to go.

‘No one can doubt there is better representation than there was 30 years ago on TV and film,’ says Kanya King, founder of the MOBOs. ‘But those changes are few and far between.’ Following on from the success of the MOBO music awards, King will launch her latest venture, MOBO Screen, later this year. Apart from aiming to provide more opportunities for diversity in film and TV, the award is an attempt to counteract the fact that UK film talent (such as Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Jimi Mistry) is forced to work overseas to gain industry recognition.

‘Awards such as the EMMAs and the MOBOs highlight the ethnic minority contribution to the British culture and economy,’ says Denis Fernando from the National Assembly Against Racism. ‘They are the best way to attack stereotypes, especially in the present climate, where things like rap music are blamed for gun crime.’

The EMMA and MOBO awards provide role models and celebrate diversity at the top end of the spectrum, but what is being done to encourage entry into the industry at the roots?

One of the most successful initiatives has come from within the industry itself. Set up in 2001, the Skillset Millennium Awards offer funding and BBC training for up to 40 individuals from ethnic minorities to develop their own media projects. Media experience is not necessary, but applicants must propose ideas that will serve their community. Winners have 12 months to develop their projects before they are showcased to an audience of top industry figures. The first intakes of award winners have already gone on to pursue careers in web production, film-making and news journalism.

But ultimately, any real change must be implemented by those at the decision-making end of media organisations. ‘I can’t see white executives employing Muslims in any great number,’ says Syed, while attending the CRE’s Race in the Media Awards held this month (in which Time Out won Best Consumer Magazine Title). During the awards, CRE chairman Trevor Phillips specifically pointed the finger at the boardrooms and executives teams, from which ethnic minorities are still largely absent. He added: “The stakes are high; racism is not all the media’s fault or responsibility, but the media can promote change or stand in its way. So writers and broadcasters have a responsibility – to paint the complete picture of Britain that exists now, including all kinds of Britons.’ Let’s hope it doesn’t take another ten years to get there.

The EMMAs ceremony will be held on May 31. To vote for finalists call 0906 273 2000 or visit the website at www.emma.tv. For details of the EMMA festival call 07002 255 3662.

For details of Skillset visit www.skillset.org.

Campaign - Friday 12th December 2003

Saatchi & Saatchi has created an anti-racism campaign to raise awareness of the NatWest-sponsored Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards.

The EMMA Awards celebrate the diversity and professional excellence within the media industry.

The print and poster campaign is designed to raise awareness and understanding about racism in Britain’s multicultural community, and aims to relate to those who identify with British as well as their own ethnic origins.

The campaign is composed of three creative executions that employ what initially appear to be characters and words in a foreign language. On closer inspection, each ad is actually written in British slang. For example, one execution says: “Fancy a pint down at the Dog and Duck?”

“The ads perfectly symbolise EMMA’s stance towards multiculture,” Bobby A. Syed, the founder of EMMA, said.

The campaign will run in ethnic media publications. The ads were written by Paul Ewen and art directed by Ajab Singh. Media planning and buying was handled by EMMA.

South Bank News - December 2002

The first ever Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards (EMMAs) were held in May 1998. Now an internationally renowned event involving personalities such as Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali, they were set up as an independent initiative to recognise the best of ethnically diverse talent by SBU Business School alums, Bobby Ayyub Syed.

“If EMMA didn’t exist then someone would have had to create something else to promote the recognition of talented individuals within the ethnic minority communities in the UK”, says Lord Herman Ouseley, former CRE chairman. “Thankfully, since 1997 Bobby Syed has had the courage, vision, tenacity and stamina to create and sustain the development of EMMA.”

Five years on, Bobby’s tenacity and stamina are stronger than ever. And five years on, EMMA is no longer just a major awards ceremony; it is also an arts festival celebrating London’s multiculturalism, a charity trust to support young people, an Internet site, a magazine and, in the pipeline, a multicultural TV channel.

How did it all start? Where did Bobby Ayyub Syed find his inspiration to create EMMA and develop it into such an internationally renowned event? After growing up in Dulwich, South London, Bobby enrolled at South Bank University in 1985 for a BSc in Social Sciences. “I’d never been in such a multicultural environment and I found it very inspiring to see all these people better their lives”, he comments. “It was an opportunity for me to interact with people from different backgrounds, to learn about myself and my environment. I’d been wrapped up in my urban existence and SBU helped to politicise me for the first time in my life; I became very involved in the Students Union and also set up a society.”

Bobby went onto Bradford for a BA (Hons.) in Peace & Conflict Studies and then did a Master’s in Politics at School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He subsequently set up a diplomatic training school at SOAS and organised a big charity show which raised £10,000 for Imran Khan’s cancer appeal.

In 1992, he joined the Rowland Company (Saatchi & Saatchi PR) to work on corporate and governmental accounts. Two years later he set up Hearsay Communications, a full service PR/Marketing agency specialising in the UK ethnic market and emerging market sector. He believed there was a definite need in the market place for specialists able to develop campaigns which crossed cultural lines.

“I set up the EMMA ceremony as a celebration of professional talents within the media industry,” says Bobby. “I wanted to bring all the talent together in one room and prove to professional clients that I could do this. I also wanted to use it as a showcase to attract clients to the agency. Media is the most powerful influencer and I felt there was a need to educate the media industry about us. It didn’t work straight away but I believed in myself, and just found it bizarre that the world couldn’t see what I could! The influencing factor about EMMA’s story was the Stephen Lawrence case. It provided the right context, one in which everyone felt the need to present a positive and sympathetic image, to be seen to be feeling. EMMA was there at the right time”.

In its second and third year, EMMA was covered on Carlton TV. Celebrities such as Spice Girl Mel B helped ensure its success, bringing in £2 million worth of publicity. When Nelson Mandela came to receive his EMMA Lifetime Achievement Award at a special presentation ceremony, for Bobby “it represented definite acknowledgment from the great and the good.”

In 2001, the BBC took over the broadcasting of the awards show. “It became a bigger and better show”, comments Bobby. “The BBC was very supportive and really improved the quality of the show. BT and NatWest became our sponsors and people started taking notice”.

Lord Ouseley underlines the awards’ ground-breaking impact: “EMMA addresses the fact that we must give recognition and encouragement to the talented ethnic minorities within the media industry here in the UK and globally where it impacts here. I feel that EMMA’s competitive edge has embarrassed the mainstream media into recognising and acknowledging their failure to blend our entire multicultural communities into their own prestigious galas and awards events.”

Bobby agrees: “The ever powerful British Media industry has not always recognised the positive images of our truly unique ethnic multicultural community. Yet the cultural richness that presently exists in our country has further enhanced its global image as the centre for global trade, cultural exchange, multiculturalism via art, music and fashion. We hope that the awards will inspire the younger generation to become more proactive in this dynamic and exciting industry, whilst recognizing the talent that already exists.

Bobby describes EMMA as an urban brand, whose main target is the young market. “Of course we respect the older generation, but our appeal is principally to the young people. It will help inner city children to develop artistic skills and find avenues for them to participate professionally in the media. By raising scholarship and bursaries, the trust will play an educational role to help young people into the media world to benefit, for instance, from placements and media training.”

The EMMA Festival, due to kick off in May 2003, will celebrate London’s multiculturalism through a range of events from all ethnic groups. Its aims are to encourage international tourism, celebrate cultural diversity, and ultimately discover new artistic talent.

“I want the EMMA brand to be evolutionary and revolutionary”, claims Bobby. “It has got to be commercially successful, but I believe in holding onto a core value. EMMA is an ethnical brand that needs to retain its ethnical roots. Its aims and ambitions are to make difference on a cultural, commercial and social level, but it has no political, religious or racial baggage. We are very careful about the sponsors we work with and it’s important to us that they have the same approach”.

“EMMA is a philosophy, a culture, a way of life. We need to define ourselves according to professional standards and values. Those standards are very high and there is a huge pressure to maintain them. My aim was always to develop a prestigious event which seriously questioned the way we had been portrayed as a community in the past, by identifying the individuals and organisations who are committed and those who hide behind tokenism.

“The EMMAs were formed to break any tribal/national barriers, which would allow a better understanding of each of our ethnic groups and the exciting work they all undertake in this growing media industry. But my experience in organising such a major racial harmony award ceremony made me realise how far we have to go before we can develop a truly multicultural society, which can only be reached through eradicating institutional racism. It led me to believe that every person is either a part of the solution or part of the problem, in developing and maintaining racial harmony in our unique community based in London and beyond.

“It would be good one day to see this award ceremony as a major mainstream event with the funding and trappings of success. But EMMA has already made the media industry sit up and take notice. It will continue building upon its previous growth and success, working as an independent body to celebrate multiculturalism within the media, with community and corporate support. We believe EMMA’s multicultural vision means endless possibilities.”

Bearing in mind Bobby’s incredible drive and energy, there is no doubt that EMMA will indeed continue to develop and strengthen its role in Britain and beyond.

By Bobby Syed

The Stage – Thursday 4th April 2002

I for once fully welcome this new mood among the film Academy members in awarding Halle Berry and the outstanding Denzel Washington, which in my view, has been well overdue. The question facing us all is whether this mood has really taken hold in Britain or does institutional tokenism need to develop a new sense of direction in today’s reality?

The last time a black actor won a major award in Hollywood was Sidney Poitier in 1964, the year after Martin Luther King’s truly historical “I have a dream” speech. His words still ring true today as people of ethnic diversity have tried to participate within mainstream British society, only to be subjected to the glass ceiling syndrome time after time.

I feel qualified to speak first hand about this problem, considering the difficulties I personally had to face in setting up and organising the Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards (EMMA) in 1997. This awards ceremony has grown to become a major multicultural celebration of diversity, with many outstanding media professionals contributing towards this enriched industry through their experience.

One can argue that the backbone of African-American society is its population of 36 million in the U.S., but in Britain our legacy as partners is much deeper when considering our historical relationship through the Commonwealth.

The EMMAs were set up as an independent initiative without any hidden commercial agendas or direct influence with any active pressure group. We have been careful to maintain a healthy working relationship with all political and commercial organisations to encourage inclusiveness, and have worked alongside their distinct interests within this unique multicultural community. The awards have maintained their independence ever since, after four successful years working with major corporations.

Presently regarded as prestigious awards supported by many, the EMMAs outline the positive contribution made by individuals and organisations to the most powerful industry in the world.

Yet we have never received any real recognition from the press or coverage in any volume other than that with Mel B and William Hague when he appeared to look at her breasts during our May 2000 ceremony.

New Nation - Monday 8th April 2002

The team behind the EMMA Awards has picked up an accolade of its own.

EMMA (Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards) scooped Best Financial and Corporate Advertisement at the annual press awards of advertising bible Campaign magazine for its anti-racist blood donor campaign.

The team beat off stiff competition from contenders, including the Labour Party for its general election campaign, The Scottish National Blood Transfusion service, and the Army.

The advert, developed with top ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, carried the powerful message: “Racists. Your Child Needs a Pint of Blood to Live: Pick the White One”. An EMMA spokesman said, “The aim of the EMMA anti-racist campaign during August 2001, after major riots in cities like Bradford, Oldham, and Burnley, was always to highlight our common bond as humanity so that the community could work together and donate blood for each other.”

EMMA founder Bobby A. Syed said, “We are extremely honoured and excited by this recognition towards EMMA’s corporate stance against racism in any shape or form, which ultimately highlights our positive multicultural agenda.”  

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