Sunday 24 July 2011

Amnesty TV: global human rights show produced by 11 white men and 0 women

“To coincide with its 50th anniversary Amnesty International UK have launched Amnesty TV, an online 15-minute, fortnightly magazine-style show which blends satirical comedy, short documentaries, polemics and news around global human rights campaigns.”

The quote above is from Amnesty TV’s press release. Amnesty is a global human rights organisation whose work I admire greatly. They know, more than anyone, that gendered violence, oppression, exploitation and the consequent silencing of women’s voices are among the most common human rights violations. They know that the eradication of violence against women is a global human rights priority and say outright that women’s rights are human rights. They know that the world is more than half female and that still the overwhelming majority of the world’s poor, illiterate, exploited, violated and disenfranchised people are female. According to UN Women, women own just 1% of the world's land, despite our labour and productiveness. They know that women are not believed when we speak. They know that violence against women is endemic all over the world, in outwardly peaceful and civilised societies as well as in war zones; in refugee camps and supposed havens, suburban homes and rural idylls as well as regions whose infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict. They know what a struggle it has been to get international organisations to acknowledge rape and sexual violence as a war crime and a weapon of war. Even with this recognition, victims of these horrific violations are barely acknowledged or helped, let alone vindicated in their wish for justice.

Amnesty know that women all over the world desire to have equal participation in all areas of life, political, social and cultural, serious and silly, in work and rest. They know that we wish to be empowered, to play a respected role in the world, to testify to our experiences, to speak and to be heard. We are not just victims and survivors of abuse or stoical fighters against unending oppression, we are also creative, funny and interesting. We like activity, humour, television, film, art, jokes, participation, creation and recreation. Some of us might even dream of working on Amnesty TV one day, producing segments, directing, clowning about, forging a career, making people think and writing good lines, instead of being featured as grimly inspiring examples of how cruel the world is and how strong our resistance can be. Would that be likely?

Each episode of Amnesty TV focuses on a different theme and tackles different Amnesty causes from around the world. This, with no editorialisation, using information from the press release, is the permanent production team behind Amnesty TV:

  • Mike Bradley, former producer and director at Charlie Brooker’s News Wipe and Screen Wipe
  • Iain Morris, co-creator of the Inbetweeners
  • Neil Boorman, creator of C4 show Shoreditch Twat
  • Comic-strip creators Modern Toss, aka John Link and Mick Bunnage
  • Chris Atkins, writer and director of Taking Liberties and Starsuckers
  • cartoonist Robert Thompson
  • Writer/director duo Misery Bear, two men called Chris Hayward and Nat Saunders
  • Illustrator Anthony Burrill

Tally: 10 white men, 0 women.

Their human rights issues experience, gleaned from News Wipe, Screen Wipe, The Inbetweeners, Shoreditch Twat, Modern Toss, Misery Bear and Starsuckers: none, except for one person, Chris Atkins, who worked on a project called Taking Liberties.

Amnesty TV, whose first episode has already aired and can be viewed here, is an excellent idea. It is important that humanitarian issues reach as many people as possible, not just the small cohort of highly motivated activists who often give huge amounts of time and effort to a range of causes. Being an activist is a full time job, but it is unsalaried. Dedicated activists usually manage to live three or four lives simultaneously, such is their energy and commitment. But it shouldn’t be so. Everyone must work together now to change the world.

Amnesty TV has changed nothing and is a smack in the face for all activists and human rights workers, many of whom are women and nonwhite. As usual, the women work hard for free and the white men get a cushy job with their ‘mates’ (that dreadful disingenuous word: it means ‘other members of the patriarchy’) for a nice bit of dosh or at least a CV gold star. Amnesty TV could have overturned so many longstanding traditions regarding the way TV is made, how human rights issues are presented and how global themes are seen by national audiences. Instead, it was jobs-for-the-boys all the way. It has taken its budget and the excellent reputation and career perks that will follow from such a prestigious assignment and given them to a white men’s club whose past work demonstrates no interest at all in any kind of diversity, equality, internationalism or progressiveness, except for one past project by one of the group.

I have been sent information about Episodes 1 and 2 and have included the names of the contributors I have been able to trace.

Episode 1 is about internet freedom and includes the following:

  • Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a special message recorded for Amnesty’s 50th anniversary
  • Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, delivers a polemic on internet freedom around an Amnesty class where children compose a collage of China’s recent history
  • Internet pranksters Don’t Panic ask the embassies of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US to sign a birthday card for Amnesty, featuring actor Heydon Prowse
  • Harm on Removal – satirical recruitment/training video on security techniques used during deportation from the UK

In an interesting interview with Dazed Digital, Heydon Prowse, the actor in the embassy/birthday card segment, is asked for the names of more of the people behind the Amnesty TV project. He mentions all the men I’ve listed and adds one more name, Joe Wade. I have checked Joe Wade's Twitter page and found out that he actually writes for Dazed as well as working with the Don't Panic crew. Cosy! It's great when there's a chaps' network buoying - or should that be boying? - you up at all times.

Prowse does not mention any women as privileged power-players in the project, although he states that the eradication of violence against women is an Amnesty priority and says he admires the chutzpah of the Saudi women who flouted the driving ban against them. Unfortunately women's chutzpah is only to be used, for free, at great risk to ourselves, in situations where we are essentially powerless. Amnesty TV seems to like us as resilient and plucky victims of outrageous oppression... but as for the comforts, long term career benefits, creative fulfilment and enjoyment of a nice TV job, no, that is not suffering enough!

Updated tally of production power-holders: 11 white men, 0 women. Of the 11 men, one, Chris Atkins, has worked on one human rights project. If you want to include the named on-air contributors so far: 13 lucky white unoppressed men working in culture, the arts, tech and telly in the UK (I'm now including Jimmy Wales and Heydon Prowse from Episode 1); and one woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for years, whose husband died of cancer while she was there, who was isolated from friends, family and allies, a democratically elected leader prevented by male military force from leading her people, who can’t leave Burma now because she won’t be let back in. There is an obscene difference between the freedom and comfort these men have enjoyed and taken for granted all their lives and certainly all their careers, and the very serious trials that the one woman has faced.

Episode 2 goes live on 29th July and will focus on arms. It includes the following (I've highlighted new names in black):
  • Misery Bear have a specially filmed torture story. The press release tells me that MB “have just written a new Sky 1 sitcom”. Lucky them – keep the jobs rolling for the boys, boys.
  • Robert Thompson, cartoonist for Private Eye, Financial Times, Telegraph and The Spectator
  • How To Write A Dictator’s Speech, a satirical clip package that deconstructs the eccentric 3 hour monologues that dictators like to give during moments of crisis. I can't trace the contributors here.
  • Cassette Boy [Michael Bollen and Steve Warlin], famous for re-editing The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, re-imagines an Obama speech on torture and Guantanamo.
No women have been named as contributors for episode two, but we can add two more men to our list, Michael Bollen and Steve Warlin from Cassette Boy.

Final tally of all traceable and named contributors: 15 present white men, 1 absent non-white woman.

Speaking about the launch, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Brand and Events, Andy Hackman, said:
“Amnesty International’s aim is to connect people and unite them behind a common belief that people coming together can effect real, tangible change. Amnesty TV’s combination of entertaining content and inspiring stories will help us engage and mobilise a new generation of supporters.”

In creating Amnesty TV nobody at all has effected “real, tangible change” in a sexist British television scene in which women producers, directors, comics, writers, actors and contributors are brutally ignored with an obviousness that is breathtaking. Don't believe me? Hey - as Amnesty knows, women are never believed when we testify. Amnesty TV has been created by the 11 white men and 0 women who were invited to participate. In doing so, it has been made extremely clear to women just who is considered worthy of employing, whose ideas are worth listening to and whose creativity and wit are worth watching, and who is not. Of its episode contributors only 1 woman is named, and she is a towering political and social leader who has been persecuted and physically jailed by male opponents all her life, unlike the men, who have worked in comedy all their lives, with the one exception of Chris Atkins and his Taking Liberties project.

Amnesty TV, what the hell do you think you’re doing? You have created a white men’s club that has the temerity, with its collective background in puerile, sniggering light entertainment, to try to say anything at all about global human rights abuses. These human rights abuses are suffered by boys, girls, men and women; but women additionally suffer from an underlying and ubiquitous lack of respect, position and regard in societies, cultures and nation-states all over the world including this one. It is standard, all over the world, to ignore and belittle women, to mock women, to objectify women, to be snide about women, to abuse and betray women, to exploit women’s labour, to outwardly say all the right things but actually behave as though women are not important and don’t exist.

It is standard to withhold power from women. It is standard all over the world  to ensure that even when women are a part of working life, all the benefits of accreditation, profit, association, fame, success and integration into the dominant power structure go to men. Women's rights are not just about protection from the grossest abuses possible or acknowledging women only in relation to men's oppression and marginalisation of us; indeed, Amnesty TV have perpetrated yet more of that marginalisation. Women's rights are also about acknowledging and valuing women's potential and creativity in every part of life, in every industry, in every culture, in every country and in every project.

Amnesty TV can be watched here.
Amnesty UK is here and can be followed on Twitter here.
Amnesty also has a Facebook page, here.

UPDATE: I am writing this at 2.21am on Sunday 24th July 2011. Within 6 hours of the above article going online, it began to zoom globally. The below is a telling email from a woman affected by the issues I describe above. I have not cut anything or removed the final line compliment as I did not want to edit any of it. However, I have deleted the name of the writer.
Hi Bidisha,

I’m so glad you’ve written this about amnesty tv; I felt a surge of recognition. I work in the human rights field, directly with people seeking refuge; I’m paid to do this work, it’s hard, my life will never be the same again, I love it - and it occupies most of my waking hours, my head and my heart;  but it means that I don’t have much time and headspace to address issues such as these, which are key;  your article helps to spotlight the enduring powerful (and colonising) voices in this field which ‘speak out’ on behalf of others with a lot less power, position and privilege – such a difficult and often presumptuous / dodgy thing to do; and these powerful voices constantly mutate into new forms – media slick, with the same patriarchal and racist underbellies…..  I’m glad you’re voicing this stuff eloquently and passionately.


It is now 1.11pm on Monday 25th July and I have received an email from Neil Boorman, one of the Club of Eleven producing Amnesty TV. His email address is This is what the unedited email says:

Hello Bidisha
thanks so much for covering the launch of Amnesty TV, its very much appreciated.
I think it's a bit harsh to judge AITV's content on the basis of one show and the running order of a couple more. Looking forward, we have a film on a Palestinian Women's football team running in episode 4, we are following 3 female candidates in the upcoming Egyptian elections (Amnesty's key message for these elections is equal participation for women) for episode 5 and episode 6 focuses on the Taliban's return to negotiations in Afghanistan and the effect it will have on women's rights, specifically around education.
We are working closely with a wide range of journalists to help produce this content. If you have some stories that you'd like to propose, I would be more than happy to discuss.
Best of luck with everything.
Neil Boorman
Amnesty TV

Funnily enough, because of the 11 white men, 0 women Amnesty TV production team, I do not want "to propose" "some stories" even though they "would be more than happy to discuss" as I do not grovel to men's clubs. It is a demeaning waste of time. I work with men and with women whose existing track record demonstrates that when they are given an opportunity to create a team, they do not immediately pass all the power amongst 11 white men, 10 of whom have zero background in global humans rights issues, activism, diversity or campaigning and 1 of whom has worked on one relevant project in his entire career. Boorman has also helpfully pointed out that women only start making a significant appearance on Amnesty TV in episode 4. Thank you.

However, Boorman's email is clear, reasonable, courageous and decent. He does not make excuses or blame women. This was my response, completely unedited, all typos sadly original.
Hi there and thanks for your email, which I appreciate, which is civil and clear and free of the victim-blaming that greets so many of these 'where are the women' articles that I and many other women have to write, week in, week out, whether they are about charity TV or hollywood films, newspaper sports coverage, business, religion, book prizes or political representation. I am going to put your email, and this response of mine, at the bottom of the article. I will not communicate with you after this.

The items you mention for future episodes look excellent. They are lively, topical and reflect the urgency of women's situation as well as our proactiveness in challenging it. You represent women as heroic freedom fighters, tough advocates, strong victims, fearless campaigners, valiant survivors, We are! But women are not just oppression-fighters, victims or survivors. Women want to have good lives, to be on the inside, to enjoy success, inclusion, relaxation, power, influence, creativity.

My article is not about the content of Amnesty TV, it is about the make-up of the production team.11 white men with a comedy background and 0 women is not okay on any show and certainly not on a show about global human rights.

You have been given the power to assemble a team and you have chosen 10 other white men and no women. You are sending the message that you believe women are not good enough to participate behind the scenes in your project, that you are not interested in working closely with women as equals and that women do not deserve to share power with you. 
When the project is over, you and your 10 white male chums will benefit for a long time in your careers and you will go on to help each other, which is what men's clubs do and indeed what you have already done.

Women globally will still be fighting abuse and oppression with no money, resources or power. They will be dependent on men-only clubs like yours to give them coverage. More privileged women in the UK who wish to have similar jobs to yours will be excluded, maybe by you.

You close your email by saying, "Best of luck with everything." In choosing to put together a production team of 11 white men and 0 women on a global human rights TV project you have made it clear that any woman and any non-white person of either sex who wished to be involved in producing Amnesty TV as part of its central team would need a lot more than luck.

Next time you are given an opportunity to share power, do not choose to share it with 10 other white men only and then be forced to write squirming emails to strangers.

UPDATE: I am writing at 5.05pm on Saturday 6th August and have now received a long email from one of the 11 white men who create Amnesty TV, pointing out that of this all-male group, which I had earlier claimed had no human rights experience, he, one of the eleven, has worked on one major human rights project. I apologise to Chris Atkins and have amended the article throughout. Here is his email, unedited but for the omission of his email address, and my unedited response.

-On Sat, Aug 6, 2011 at 3:05 PM, Chris Atkins <EMAIL ADDRESS OMITTED BY ME> wrote:

Hi Bidisha

I read your interesting article on amnesty TV. I cannot speak for Amnesty or the other contributors you mention but I can speak for me. You accurately list my experience as “Writer and director of Taking Liberties and Starsuckers.” But, at the end of your list of contributors, you summarise that our collective experience is inadequate for the show: “Their human rights issues experience, gleaned from News Wipe, Screen Wipe, The Inbetweeners, Shoreditch Twat, Modern Toss, Misery Bear and Starsuckers: none.”
Unfortunately you have missed out the film you earlier acknowledged I made – Taking Liberties – which does qualify me in this area. This film, as the name suggests, is all about civil liberties and human rights. It is a feature length documentary that took me 2 years to make and I spent all that time researching all human rights and made a case that they were being eroded with several dozen case studies. Since then I have become an active campaigner on the issue, and have spoken about human rights in the British national media countless times, and have talked on the subject at schools and universities for 3 years. I also wrote a book about human rights, also called Taking Liberties, that has sold thousands of copies and is on the reading lists for both GCSE and A Level. I’m not listing this to blow my own trumpet, but to point that my human rights issues experience is greater than the “none” you state in your piece. If you let me have your address I will send you a copy of both the book and the film so you can gauge my experience first hand, though a quick google should introduce you to my output on the subject. The Taking Liberties website, for which I wrote all the content, is a great place to start:

I’m confident that you didn’t exclude Taking Liberties from your post in this way in order to make your point more powerfully, and will accept that it was just an oversight. If you could make a correction that acknowledges the above then it will set the record straight.


Chris Atkins

This was my response:
Hello and many thanks for your email. Yes, it's absolutely an oversight. Many apologies - I'll add it to to the Amnesty article, with an apology. Of the 11 men and 0 women named on the press release as the production team for Amnesty TV, you, one out of eleven white men, do after all have human rights experience! I am very, very glad to hear it. Now work on the other team members, speak up about the imbalance I have pointed out, change the status quo and bring more women into your team, not as assistants, not as subordinates, not as featured victims/survivors, not as volunteers, or freelancers, but as power players with equal status. Now I know how passionately you care about human rights, equality, diversity and equal representation, I too have total confidence that you will be the change we all want to see. Then, as I said to your colleague Neil, one of the gang of eleven, you will not have to write long, defensive emails to strangers.
I am tired now. The more this goes on, the more sordid it is getting, not for me but for them. These guys are having to email me in dribs and drabs, spits and spots, to  show that after all they have included some women from episode 4 onwards, one of the eleven does have human rights experience, they do care about these issues. Like I said, I am awfully glad to hear it. So it grates all the more that despite their professed interest, they are still part of an all-male, all-white team of eleven producers working on a global human rights show. Surely there is one member in this club - Chris Atkins, I am pinning my hopes on you here - who has the guts to stand up to this, to speak up to his fellows and to challenge cultural femicide in whatever way he can. You say you care, you say you are all for equality, you say all the right things. Now prove it.

I have now (6.20pm) received another email from Chris Atkins. I have printed the email below along with my response.
On Sat, Aug 6, 2011 at 5:16 PM, Chris Atkins <EMAIL ADDRESS OMITTED> wrote:
My email wasn’t defensive, it was pointing out a glaring factual inaccuracy in your post. I’m proud to part of this Amnesty TV team and I don’t agree with your conclusions. I could have a debate about how positive discrimination harms the very people it is supposed to support, but it seems your mind is very well made up.

Chris Atkins
My response is below, unedited.
Hi and thanks again - I'll put this onto the never-ending scroll of the Amnesty piece. I apologise totally for the inaccuracy, I should have looked up every project mentioned on the press release but after seeing so many I knew of well (News Wipe, Starsuckers, Misery Bear, The Inbetweeners, Modern Toss - all of which I like in their own way) I assumed, and was wrong to. However, it changes nothing about the reality of who hold the power in this project, which is what's depressing.
So, to sum up. There are 11 white men and 0 women in the topmost named roles on the team behind Amnesty TV. One of these men, Chris Atkins - ironically, painfully, gallingly, hilariously, the only one who has any human rights experience - has made it clear that he "could have a debate about how positive discrimination harms the very people it is supposed to support." Luckily, he will never have to have this debate, to fight for inclusion or petition for support. He is already supported, safely, happily, successfully, proudly, in the white men's club, with his 10 white male colleagues, all of whom are friends with each other. Bravo, chaps - and thank you, Chris Atkins, for making your position so clear. May you all help each other's careers 'til Kingdom come.

UPDATE: Six months later, Amnesty are at it again, putting together a huge comedy and music showcase that features more than 29 white men, 1 non white man and 3 women, in favour of - get this - global and equal free speech for everyone! Read my full report on that here. Oddly enough charities seem to be some of the worst offenders when it comes to misogynistic discrimination, the latest example being The Red Cross whose high profile 150th anniversary celebrations feature 5 white men and 1 non white woman. Read my full coverage of that here.