The BBC has announced the name of the new executive who will lead for the broadcaster on disability, as part of its plan to “set the pace” on diversity in the media industry.
The appointment of Alison Walsh (pictured) as disability lead was widely predicted, as she has been successful in a similar role at Channel 4 for the last five years.
She will work across the BBC to improve programming commissioning and portrayal of disabled people.
Walsh’s aim, she says, is “always to mainstream disability – whether that be in publications, online, in employment or on screen”, and she has played a key role in developing disabled talent “on screen and behind the camera” at Channel 4.
In last year’s list of the UK’s most influential disabled people, published by Disability News Service, Walsh was rated as the most influential disabled person in the media.
Among her achievements at Channel 4, she led the search for disabled presenter talent for the broadcaster’s London 2012 Paralympics coverage, and helped write the bids that won Channel 4 the rights to broadcast those games and Rio 2016.
But her time at Channel 4 was not without controversy.
In December 2010, she defended Channel 4’s decision to allow comedian Frankie Boyle to tell offensive, disablist “jokes” about the son of model Katie Price on his show.
And earlier that year, she had also defended the channel’s decisions to use the term “freak of nature” in trailers publicising a documentary on Paralympic athletes, and to call a new series in which people with facial disfigurements shared a house with beauty-obsessed people “Beauty and the Beast”.
This week, she said in a statement that her BBC appointment was “a dream role”, and added: “Disability is normal for so many of us – part of our lives, directly or indirectly.
“The BBC, perhaps more than any other broadcaster, needs to reflect that normality and to nurture the best of the nation’s disabled talent.
“We’ve seen real progress in disability portrayal in recent years, but that feels like just the warm-up.
“I’m hugely looking forward to working with teams across the BBC, building on the great work they are already doing and helping create the next big breakthroughs.”
Walsh will join the BBC as part of a new diversity and inclusion team, based in Birmingham and led by Tunde Ogungbesan, the new head of human resources for diversity, inclusion and succession, who joins from Shell.
Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth, the BBC’s director of human resources, said: “We believe it’s important that we do all we can to reflect our audiences both on screen and off.
“These important appointments will help us deliver the action plan we announced last year to tackle under representation at the BBC.”
Last year, BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, said: “The BBC gets much right on diversity, but the simple fact is that we need to do more.
“I am not content for the BBC to be merely good or above average. I want a new talent-led approach that will help set the pace in the media industry.
“I believe in this and want our record to be beyond reproach.”
Hall wants the BBC to quadruple on-screen representation of disabled people by 2017, and to increase disabled staff and leadership in the organisation to over five per cent by 2017.