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.
The political context: Setting the scene
In March 2021, a report into racism and ethnic inequalities in the United Kingdom was released by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED). CRED was established by the government following the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The report was accused of downplaying the role that institutional or systemic racism played in inequalities in the UK. It was subsequently condemned by a wide range of civil society groups, charitable foundations, and those working to challenge racial discrimination and injustice across the country. A group of UN human rights experts also strongly rejected the report, claiming that it was misleading, falsified historical facts and data and could further perpetuate racism and discrimination.
The publication of the CRED report shortly followed a series of events – including Covid-19, allegations made by Meghan Markle about the UK media and the royal family, and the Windrush Scandal – which many say have further confirmed the existence of structural racism and revealed its implications in the UK. It also followed the publication of reports on racism in the UK’s core institutions for example schools, the police, the justice system, the health service and in the sports industry. Nonetheless, the report chose to ignore the data and evidence from these events and reports. The government continues to defend its position that there is no evidence of institutional racism. The then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, whose sustained use of discriminatory and offensive language towards Black people and Muslims has been widely reported, described the report as “set(ting) a positive agenda for change”.
What ensued in 2021 – 2022, and over the course of the period during which this research was conducted, were a further series of events which exposed racism in institutions across the UK. These included allegations of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and the killing of Chris Kaba by the Metropolitan police. In a letter to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in October 2022 concerning the review of culture and standards within the Metropolitan Police, due to be released in February 2023, the review’s chair Baroness Casey said they had already identified “racial disparity throughout the Met’s misconduct system” as a key issue.
There is considerable evidence of a culture of impunity for bad actors, bigots, and racists in many sectors of British society. Over 100,000 racist hate crimes were recorded between April 2021 and March 2022 across England and Wales, only 8% of which resulted in a charge or summons, according to home office data released in October 2022. According to civil society organisation, Stop Hate UK, racism is the highest reported motivation for hate crimes. This is being reflected in the digital sphere and on social media platforms in particular as racist abuse and hate speech has become more apparent. High-profile activists and members of the Black African and Caribbean population, from Diane Abbott to Marcus Rashford, have spoken about the pressure and impact of racist online abuse that they have received.
While any proposals to deal with structural racism in the UK media should begin by addressing the immediate experiences and needs of Black journalists, they are unlikely to be sustainable without consideration of the wider context and institutions that constitute our society. This is particularly relevant with proposals for news media reform. The news media reports on society, its economic and political processes, supposedly with the aim of providing the public with the information they require to make decisions and fully participate in social and political processes.
Without greater reflection on structural and institutional racism at a wider societal level and concrete action and reform, the news media industry will continue to perpetuate the status quo. The interviews conducted for this research confirmed that the structural conditions of the news media, and, by default, its outputs, are arguably reinforcing the wider racialised prejudices evident in British society. This means that if we believe that there is a role for the media in shaping social attitudes and opinions, in order for significant change to be sustainable, it needs to do much work both internally and externally.
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock