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.
The impact on content
I remember I was sitting on the news desk and the senior editor bounded over and he was like, ‘This is just coming through on the news wire. This girl’s young, she’s pretty, she’s middle class, she’s white. We’ve got to cover her. Got to cover her right now.’ Like get it on kind of thing, guys. And it just really struck me because even though I wasn’t (covering) these types of stories, I just remember just being so shocked that he would say it so overtly. Like this is why we are covering this girl. She’s young and she’s pretty and she’s middle class and she’s white. He said those things out loud. That just blew my mind.
The impact of this is clearly exemplified in news values and news selection. In some cases, stories are hierarchised according to race, according to the Black journalists interviewed and according to some academic research. It is often assumed that greater staff diversity might lead to more diverse content. What this research has shown is that, in an environment such as that described by the Black journalists interviewed for this report – one where Black voices are silenced, edited out, or excluded as well as one where the political economy of the media industry can inform its news selection and content – ensuring that diversity strategies are effective and impactful requires a more nuanced approach that incorporates the lived experiences of those journalists whose presence may make organisations appear to be more diverse.
Discourse Analysis Case Study
In order to gain further insight into news coverage of topics related to race, discourse analyses of print, broadcast and online content from the mainstream media in the UK were conducted. The focus was on assessing the impact that the lack of representation of Black journalists in the newsrooms, plus the issues related to narrating Black stories outlined in the sections above, has on outputs. Platforms analysed included: the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, Independent, ITV, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, Sky, and The Telegraph.
The print media
The first piece of discourse analysis focused on news coverage of the March 2021 report into racial and ethnic disparities in the UK by the government-appointed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) in print publications. The main findings from this research were as follows:
The Telegraph and The Daily Mail used their white political and Whitehall editors to cover the report. Sources and experts used in their coverage came entirely from government and the CRED itself. The two publications were more likely to associate negative aspects and behaviour with Black and ethnic minority communities – for example violence. Coverage of the report is in the main uncritical, which is classified by the Centre for Media Monitoring methodology as revealing ‘antagonistic bias’ towards Black and ethnic minority communities.
Coverage in The Telegraph overwhelmingly concurs with the Commission’s report findings that institutional racism does not exist. This is affirmed through interviews with Sir Tony Sewell the report’s author and Kemi Badenoch, MP who was the equalities minister in government at the time. The Telegraph was most likely to requote sources from other publications, namely The Daily Mail and the Times. No reference was made to sources who were critical of the report.
The Mail’s coverage generally avoided condoning or criticising the findings of the report. Its coverage relied largely on sources from government as well as the Labour Party, and referred to the fury of ‘left-wing politicians’ about the findings of the report. Race discourse is portrayed as an issue dominated by left-wing activists. In one headline in the Mail, the word ‘racism’ is misspelled to appear as ‘cacism.’
Media organisations with in-house community affairs and race correspondents who were leading the main coverage and analysis of the findings of the report, such as The Guardian and Independent, provided more diverse coverage. In addition to sources from the government and the CRED report itself, they drew upon experts and sources who were independent representatives from the main communities covered in the report, namely Black and ethnic minority groups, as well as civil society organisations (CSOs) who were working on diversity, inclusion and race in the United Kingdom.
Such sources included David Lammy MP, Halima Begum from the race equality thinktank, the Runnymede Trust, the then shadow women and equalities secretary, Marsha De Cordova, and Rehana Azam, the GMB Union national secretary for public services. Black and ethnic minority members of the public were also included for comment, particularly from the younger generations who shared their lived experiences of structural racism in the UK. The same was observed in the coverage by the Mirror which was mainly led by a senior Black journalist and other Black commentators in opinion pieces.
Coverage in The Guardian, Independent and Mirror was openly critical of the findings of the CRED report. Language used to describe the report include repeated use of the following words and phrases: offensive, upsetting, exhausting, damaging, controversial, divisive, failed, gaslighting, disrespecting, contentious, disturbing. In discourse analytical terms defined by the Centre for Media Monitoring methodology used in this research (see Methodology section), this is categorised as “supportive bias” towards Black and ethnic minority communities.
All of the headlines in news coverage of the report confirmed the bias in the newspaper articles whether this was supportive or antagonistic bias. The Independent newspaper was the most likely to display impartiality in its reporting by giving due prominence to sources from both sides of the debate.
A second piece of discourse analysis was conducted on broadcast media between December 2021 and January 2022. This period was chosen based on the availability of clips from mainstream broadcasters – BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky. In order to understand how and when race and racism was covered in the broadcast media, the set of keywords referenced in the Methodology section was applied to coverage during this period. The main findings from this research were as follows:
In December, there were no specific broadcasts on race or racism. Coverage which included elements on ethnicity and race focussed solely on Covid-19, the outbreak of the Omicron strain of the virus, the booster vaccine roll-out programme, and South Africa and the Omicron variant.
There was largely no evidence of stereotypical representations of Black people in the imagery used, headlines and framing of stories. There was one exception to this. A BBC World News story about Omicron in South Africa on the 21 December was framed in such terms as “crowded” areas, “1 in 4 people with HIV”, “Africa home to the world’s biggest HIV epidemic” and was accompanied by images of shanty towns. This positioned South Africa as a place of HIV, poverty, and now Covid-19. This description contrasted with other coverage by the BBC on the positive action that South Africa had taken to deal with the Covid-19/Omicron pandemic.
One trend seen in most of the coverage was that very few people of colour were used as sources in stories on Covid-19. The clips show a bias towards white men and women professionals who were given prominence in the stories on the basis of their expertise. London Mayor Sadiq Khan was the most prominent person of colour in news excerpts.
In January, content related to race and racism focused on the publication of the report on racism in cricket and in particular Azeem Rafiq’s testimony to parliament. Most of the broadcasts were based on Azeem Rafiq’s testimony alone; he was the main source – either as protagonist or victim – portrayed in all of the broadcasts. With the exception of ITV and Channel 4, broadcasters did not quote Rafiq directly, but used clips of his testimony to parliament. The coverage by the broadcast media predominantly confined the framing of the issue as one for Yorkshire Cricket Club specifically, and included the club’s denial that there was institutional racism or that Rafiq Azeem was a victim of racial discrimination.
With exception of Channel 4, no reference was made to the wider question of institutional racism at the national level or within in cricket/sport more generally. Channel 4 did refer to the wider national political and economic context in its coverage on racism in cricket. They also referred to the Covid-19 pandemic, included footage of BLM protestors and the race report which it noted was ‘widely condemned.’ Its reporting also referenced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their allegations of racism, and racism against English football players such as Marcus Rashford.
The BBC, Sky and ITV all fielded their white Sports Correspondents to cover the story. Channel 4 used a number of different journalists in each broadcast, including Black and ethnic minority presenters and journalists. Channel 4 and ITV were the only broadcasters to interview Rafiq Azeem personally and provide his first-hand account of racism at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
 Saha, Anamik (2021). Race Culture and Media. Sage: London.
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock