In February 2021, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) was awarded funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, through their Power and Accountability programme, to fund a project to identify and begin to address structural racism in UK journalism. The resulting policy report, published in March 2023, provides an overview of the challenges that Black journalists are facing in the British news media. Read and download the report.
Conclusions and recommendations
This report has presented a bleak picture of the impact of structural racism on and in the UK news media. Drawing from the direct experiences of Black journalists in the UK, it highlights how Black journalists are undermined, harassed and excluded from newsroom processes and content.
In a milieu where government and industry leaders continue to deny the existence of structural racism, this is hardly surprising. Senior management and editors across newsrooms are predominantly white and there are limited opportunities for Black journalists from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds to enter the profession. This not only restricts the number of Black people in the newsrooms across all levels but then impacts on the exclusionary experiences of those who do make it in. British news media content is often seen to be non-representative of the needs of Black African and Caribbean people who are largely excluded from debates and narratives.
The experiences of Black journalists clearly demonstrate that current approaches to diversity and inclusion are not delivering change across the industry. In their absence, coping strategies are informal and instigated by Black journalists and initiatives rather than media institutions themselves. These coping strategies are also limited in their effectiveness in the absence of safe spaces in the newsroom.
Black-led media initiatives, content platforms and support groups have been working in order to fill information gaps and give voice to and deal with the issues that Black people and Black journalists are facing. A large part of the problem is that people in positions of power in majority-white countries, who are largely white middle and upper class, don’t act upon findings and recommendations from these initiatives. There are greater possibilities to give prominence to the work of these initiatives by helping them to sustain and develop further so that they might contribute to a better-informed public and begin to address the entrenched issues brought about by systemic racism.
With this in mind, this report draws the following conclusions based on the interviews conducted with Black journalists in order to inform the development of interventions to support Black journalists in the UK news media:
- Structural racism in the news media does not exist in isolation. There is work in the wider media and creative industries devoted to addressing diversity issues and racism. There is an opportunity for news managers and editors to become more involved in such initiatives. Examples include the work of the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Diversity at Birmingham City University on legislative reform, as well as the work of BECTU to create an independent racism reporting body. Black journalists need to also be a part of these conversations and initiatives.
- Senior leadership needs to change its racial make-up in order to reflect the improvements in diversity at entry level and better reflect the ethnic make-up of the wider UK society. If hard or soft targets are necessary in the first instance at board level, then they should be introduced and the rationale for them should be clearly explained. However, targets should be seen as a quick fix and not used in isolation from more substantive and longer-term work to remove the barriers that prevent Black journalists from entering into senior positions. There is evidence that the number of Black journalists is increasing at entry level, but a deeper look at recruitment and promotion processes is vital to understanding why representation remains limited at top levels.
- There is a need to create and enable safe spaces for Black journalists in UK newsrooms. This will necessitate a deeper dialogue with Black journalists and at a management level that requires honesty and a better understanding of context and conditions. Again, key to the success of this will be listening to the needs and experiences of Black journalists and ensuring ongoing debates and issues are continually addressed.
- Further work at an organisational level to incentivise media managers to recruit and promote Black journalists to management positions and also report on a wider range of topics is essential to complement existing diversity programmes. The career progress of senior management should be predicated, in part at least, on the proven success of developing, including and promoting Black people in leadership roles – and indeed in content.
- It is useful to apply an intersectional lens to recruitment, retention, and training policies which include race, class, age, disability status amongst other criteria. Larger organisations should begin by examining their employment data and by gathering qualitative feedback during recruitment and training processes.
- Greater transparency in decision-making in all aspects of the news-making process is required. This begins with transparency in recruitment and promotion processes in order that all staff are clear on how and why choices are made. There should also be greater transparency regarding news selection, hierarchies, and sources.
- The positions of community affairs and race correspondents need to be more widespread and sustained throughout the journalism profession. Reporting on race and racism requires specialist knowledge and skill which should be supported across all news media organisations in the same way that migration, political affairs, and gender have become recognised areas of expertise.
- Further news reporting on racism and structural racism is one way to draw public attention to the problem. Reporting on the lack of official responses to the situation as well as the culture of impunity that exists will encourage greater accountability from those in positions of power.
- Black-led organisations and initiatives should be uplifted and sustained. We are Black Journos and Black Minds Matter can offer direct support to Black journalists. Media organisations such as gal-dem and Black Ballad are just two examples of independent Black organisations which are providing an alternative narrative to that which is prevalent in the mainstream media. Funding for these initiatives is however limited and many struggle to sustain themselves financially. The media industry has a responsibility to find ways to support and include them.
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock