shadow of writer

BBC shadow schemes an ‘insult to writers’

WGGB has called on the BBC to introduce the National Minimum Wage for writers on its long running series shadow schemes.

This follows reports from members that they are receiving the equivalent of around £2-£3 an hour on the schemes which cover EastEnders, Holby City, Doctors and Casualty.

The shadow schemes offer a single script fee of £1,000 and participants (often experienced writers with agents and professional credits to their names) are required to produce up to three drafts of a trial script over a three-month period.

One writer told WGGB that she had incurred debts of £8,000 to cover rent, living costs and childcare while completing one of the schemes, which required a full-time level of commitment with no guarantee of a commission at the end.

A letter sent on June 2 2015 by WGGB General Secretary Bernie Corbett to Lord Hall, Director-General of the BBC, drew attention to the problems that have beset the shadow schemes since the suspension of the much-respected Drama Writers Academy in 2013.

Set up in 2005 under the direction of ex-BBC controller of drama production and new talent John Yorke, this allowed writers who wanted to write for one of the four shows to undertake a 12-week initial training period which paid an ‘attendance fee’ of around £4,000. If they passed this trial period, they were guaranteed a commission on each of the four shows, paid at professional rates over the ensuing 12 months.

Corbett described the current system as “displaying severe shortcomings”, and representing a “grotesque unfairness”. He added that the shadow schemes were “insulting to writers of proven ability” and said, “This is an issue of corporate citizenship. As a public corporation, the BBC has social responsibilities. Paying writers below any recognised acceptable, or indeed legal, minimums is a breach of those responsibilities.”

He called on the BBC to increase the script fee to £2,814, in a bid to ensure that those writers who are required to commit three months of their time to complete the required trial scripts would receive at least the minimum wage.

Following two years of stalled negotiations with the BBC on this issue, former WGGB TV Chair Bill Armstrong said: “The managers of the BBC’s shadow schemes have repeatedly refused to pay writers more than £1,000 for three months’ work. Reporting on a raid on a Rochdale factory the BBC news site has described £2 an hour as ‘slave wages’. And yet the BBC itself pays writers the same amount. Producers and script editors do not have to go through three-month vetting periods for £1,000. Why should writers?”

WGGB is also concerned that the only current route onto writing for one of the four shows is via the shadow schemes, and this is limiting the talent pool to those who have the private means of support required to undertake three months of intensive work with virtually non-existent remuneration.

It also means that even professional writers who have already been paid at industry rates to produce work for one long running series (for example Casualty) are required to go through another three month shadow scheme for only £1,000 to be considered for one of the other three shows, a situation described by Corbett as “excessively exclusive to each separate show”.

Other concerns raised by WGGB include a lack of significant training and clarity about whether the shadow schemes are a training programme for aspiring writers or a talent-vetting process for those who already have professional credits to their name.

Shadow schemes are not legally required to pay the National Minimum Wage to participants. However, the Living Wage Foundation recommends that it is good practice for employers with sufficient resources to pay the Living Wage (higher than the National Minimum Wage) to volunteers, apprentices and interns.

Read more on the story in Media Guardian.

Photo: Frog