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 below.
This report should be about hope, achievement, opportunities, success. Instead, this analysis of the experiences of Black people in journalism has heard mostly of exclusion, marginalisation and stagnation. It’s a shocking expose on the lack of progress on diversity in the media profession – despite the fact we’ve known about institutional racism for over 20 years, and that all organisations claim to be
Like myself when I entered the profession four decades ago, Black journalists are noticing the negative stereotypes and assumptions commonly made about their communities, and trying to do what they can to change the narrative. They want to tell new stories: to make their readers, listeners and viewers better informed about multicultural Britain.
Instead, for the most part, the experiences of Black journalists seem to be: enter the workplace; feel alone and unsupported; have your ideas rejected; be made to feel you don’t belong; and to have no one in a senior position you can share your story with. As one person told this study: “I feel like I am a shadow of myself in the newsroom. I don’t show my personality. I am anxious about how I am perceived whether as loud or rowdy.”
Then there are the microaggressions: one woman told a researcher: “I remember there was one day I cried my eyes out because I was mistaken for three Black women in one day.”
Worse, a culture of fear operates whereby people feel that if they speak up they risk losing their job. This is a recipe for disillusion and failure: if senior leadership don’t hear these stories they’ll see no need to change, to become more inclusive, or to give Black staff the
encouragement and understanding required to thrive. Eventually those staff will leave.
Yes, there have been positive stories, and in some organisations managers have given genuine support and reaped the rewards of having motivated journalists bringing all their diversity of thought. But these examples are too rare.
And though there have been signs of renewed efforts to improve diversity since the death of George Floyd and the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we had a similar national racism-awareness moment in 1999, after the Macpherson inquiry identified institutional discrimination. Back then, there was a flutter of activity, and some mostly small changes were made, but there was seldom any follow-through and the gains were, over time, reversed. Today’s media leaders should take heed of those lessons, and do everything they can to ensure we’re not heading for a repeat.
Senior Editor (Diversity and Development)
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock