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 following report will examine the impact of institutional and structural racism in UK newsrooms. Based on interviews with Black African and Caribbean journalists and editors from across the mainstream media industry in the UK, it will provide an assessment of the current conditions for Black journalists who are working in the media and the barriers to their inclusion. It will include an assessment of the representation of race and racism in news media content through a discourse analysis of news media content at selected periods of time. This report will argue strongly that traditional approaches to “diversity and inclusion” are not working in the UK news media because they ignore the wider environment where institutional racism is becoming so deeply embedded that it is often unseen and unheard. The application of a one-size-fits-all attitude is reductive and often disrespectful.
In the month of September 2022, there were a number of incidents where the news media coverage of Black people was questioned. On Monday 10th September 2022, a Sky News presenter mistakenly took a protest following the killing of Chris Kaba for royal mourners and the news segment was subsequently accused of racial bias. While there is no evidence to suggest the mistake was not plain human error rather than explicit bias, it raises questions about the omission of coverage of the protests in the first place. Ofcom received 598 complaints with regards to a breach of regulations around due accuracy which suggests that audiences were also concerned with the coverage.
This report will consider the relationship between the representation of Black journalists in UK newsrooms and the outputs of those newsrooms. As a way of understanding the impact of structural racism, it will also consider some of the core arguments and frameworks developed by critical race theorists.
On Monday 19th September 2022, the Times published a piece entitled “Why the hate for Meghan during mourning period, asks America.’ The piece cited articles from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Magazine, and the New York Times which all referenced campaigns of hate and racial abuse on social media aimed at Markle. One article described the British media’s treatment of Markle as “garden-variety racism”, a claim which Markle herself has levelled at the British tabloid press.
On Saturday 1st October 2022, the Mirror published a story on its website with the headline “Kwasi Kwarteng says he had to do ‘something different’ with mini-budget” and a picture of a Black man holding a briefcase, supposedly Kwarteng. The picture was in fact of another Black man published under a banner reading “Black History is Our History. Explore Black History and celebrate Black Culture”. Shaun Bailey, former journalist and politician, shared a tweet of the picture with the caption, “For a second I thought this was me, then I remembered we don’t all look the same”. The Mirror subsequently apologised for the error and tweeted, “The Mirror has a long history of working against racism and we will redouble our efforts on this”.
These are not isolated incidents from just one month. Different forms of racism and discrimination have been recorded in the UK media for decades. From Stuart Hall’s writing on racism in the UK media from the 1970s to the allegations made by Markle, the debates around racism in the UK media continue to be contested. This report will consider the relationship between the representation of Black journalists in UK newsrooms and the outputs of those newsrooms. As a way of understanding the impact of structural racism, it will also consider some of the core arguments and frameworks developed by critical race theorists.
Following Meghan Markle’s allegations in March 2021 of bigotry in the UK media, the Society of Editors (SoE), a membership body which claims to protect the freedom of the news media, published a statement which dismissed her claims outright. In the same month, a report issued by the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities rejected the concept of structural or institutional racism arguing that Britain was no longer a “system deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”. Many civil society leaders and policy makers who criticised the report for being disjointed and for its lack of a coherent argument were then accused of “wokedom” by the Daily Express, and their arguments described as “baseless” by The Telegraph. Discussions about racism in the UK media at this point were feeding into debates about institutional racism in our wider society.
Institutional racism was termed by Black Power activists Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in their 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation to highlight its “less overt” nature and origins in the establishments which constitute our society, as opposed to racism as a sole act performed by individuals. In the UK, Sir William Macpherson used the term in the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report. It was used to describe the behaviour and “collective failure” of the British police force as an organisation. In the report, Macpherson called for reform of the police force and other British institutions.
More recent examples of institutional racism can be found within the Home Office, notably in its handling of the Windrush scandal, the medical industry and its pathologisation of Black and ethnically diverse communities during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the stop and search laws that ultimately led to the killing of Chris Kaba.
While the terms institutional racism and structural racism are often used interchangeably, structural racism is broader. It includes political, economic and social hindrances that affect people of colour, which are enacted through the institutions which are supposed to include all members of our society. A 2021 Civil Society Report to the United Nations by the Runnymede Trust, which provided evidence from over 150 UK civil society organisations (CSOs), found that racism was systemic in the United Kingdom and that “it impacts Black and minority ethnic (BME) groups” enjoyment of rights. Legislation, institutional practices and society’s customs continue to combine to harm BME groups.”
Our report calls for greater accountability and transparency at an institutional level in the processes of recruitment and retention, as well as editorial practices. It recommends that Black people are better represented, made more prominent in the media, and given a greater role in political and economic reporting, as journalists and as experts and sources. It also recommends that Black-led media, civil society organisations and networks are included in all industry debates and bodies that are meant to support greater freedom in the media. The wider issue of protection for those who experience racism or trauma from racial bias in the media needs to also be addressed.
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock