As part of an ongoing project to establish the main barriers to inclusivity and representation in UK newsrooms, the EJN hosted the first of a series of online panels which addressed the question of structural racism in UK newsrooms in a year where issues of inclusivity and equity have been debated and highly contested in the UK and beyond. The event was moderated by award-winning TV presenter, journalist and EJN Trustee, Keme Nzerem, who began by asking the panellists what has and hasn’t changed in UK news in the year since the murder of George Floyd. BBC correspondent Lebo Diseko, who was based in the States and covered the Derek Chauvin trial, observed that greater diversity on screens in the US is driven by commercialism and a drive to appeal to wider audiences, whereas in the UK there are very few journalists of colour in decision making positions. The Guardian’s Community Affairs correspondent Nazia Parveen commented that her role had been created by the Guardian in response to George Floyd and that there has been a great inclination to consider race in all stories, despite there still being a lack of representation in senior positions.
Nzerem went on to ask the panellists whether structural racism was an issue in UK newsrooms. For academic, Marverine Cole, there was no question that structural racism exists and that younger journalists are less likely and less confident about pursuing a career in the UK media. The question of performative appearance was raised and both Parveen and Diseko gave examples from their own experiences of experiencing racism as a result of their appearance. Ian Burrell, an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for the i on the media sector in the UK, referred to a ‘them and us’ feeling which has existed in the UK media industry for some time, again referencing examples from his time in newsrooms covering stories such as the killing of Stephen Lawrence and the news industry’s tendency to blame the victim when they are people of colour.
All of the panellists offered practical solutions to better representation and diversity in newsrooms. These included sponsorship and mentoring programmes for journalists of colour as well as great opportunities to enter into the profession through internships and networking. The panellists all agreed that it was not only the top jobs that needed to change and include greater representation, but also key positions such as science, education, defence and investigations roles within newsrooms which tend to be ghettoised roles. Bringing people in from the margins was seen as a way to encourage younger journalists of colour to eventually feel that they can apply for such positions.
The panellists also commented on early-career journalists and Cole noted that students need to be taught and understand the difference between comment/opinion and fact-based reporting. Parveen noted that it was important to provide balanced reporting and include opinions from all sides. Burrell’s advice to young journalists was to not write everything off as you never know where your first good step into the industry might come from, noting that the Sun newspapers’ last batch of apprentices included a fair number of journalists of colour. Diseko was clear that her career choices had been made without violating her moral code.