Bluster doesn't change facts: there is racism in the British press

Harry and Meghan are interviewed by Oprah

Harry and Meghan are interviewed by Oprah - Credit: CBS

Journalist JESS BRAMMAR was dubbed part of the "Woke Wing of Fleet Street" after she criticised the way much of the press shrugged off Harry and Meghan's accusations of racism. Here she explains why the issue needs addressing, not evading.

People expected the Meghan and Harry interview to have global ramifications but no one could have predicted it would lead to the resignation of the head of little-known British press trade body.

“Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said it was untrue that sections of the UK press were bigoted,” read their press-released response to the couple's broadcast with Oprah Winfrey. Three days later, amid a huge backlash to the ill-judged and thin-skinned statement, he had gone.

The MailOnline reacted furiously to his departure, publishing a rambling article that named me as part of the "Woke Wing of Fleet Street" for being the first editor to publicly criticise the claim. But don’t let the people who cry “cancel culture!” distract you from the fact that this is a tale that reveals much about the state of the British media.

I have sat in countless meetings with senior executives across the industry where people bemoan the lack of diversity in our newsrooms, and discuss strategies to tackle it. And yet, as editors discuss trainee schemes and positive discrimination, their own news output is rarely on the table for discussion. 

Murray had challenged the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to provide evidence of bigotry in the British media. Even if you have lived in a cave for the last few years, it takes a moment on google to turn up all the evidence needed that certain corners of the industry have been bigoted, racist and sexist in plain sight. I thought his statement was untrue, and I said so, publicly.

This was not just about journalists disowning a ridiculous account of their industry. It was also about supporting our colleagues who are impacted by bigotry and racism. Imagine working inside an organisation that you consider to be publicly discriminatory towards people like you – knowing that a colleague you see in the canteen wrote an article that made you feel uneasy, or even unsafe.

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As Charlene White, the TV presenter who pulled out of hosting the Society of Editors’ awards ceremony following its response to the Harry and Meghan interview, so brilliantly put it: “Since the Black Lives Matter movement really took hold in the UK last year, every single institution in this country has had to finally look at its failings… [But] you feel as though the UK press is exempt in that discussion.”

Journalism is under attack like never before, and organisations that represent us and will fight our corner are important. But they lose their power when they can’t be honest about our own failings. The statement betrayed how warped the head of the Society of Editors’ view of the UK press’ output is, and when their membership is made up of the senior people who run our newsrooms – who make the decisions about coverage but also set the tone of our working environments – that really matters.

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