Race in the media: `I'm quitting because of racism'

Editors of newspapers will never admit to a racist recruitment policy. So how is it so few journalists are black?
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The Independent Culture
Two weeks ago I participated in Countdown to the Millennium, an LWT programme about race relations. Max Hastings, editor of the Evening Standard, was there to grill people such as Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police chief, on their contributions to racial harmony.

Now, we all know Sir Paul Condon has made mistakes, but at least he is doing something about racism within the police force, encouraging blacks and Asians to apply for jobs.

Hastings declared, on the programme, that whenever any "remotely qualified" non-white hacks approached his paper, they were "always" given a break.

In common with other editors, Hastings should take a leaf out of Condon's book. He should make more of an effort if he really wants to improve his paper's ethnic recruitment record. It is immoral to discriminate, especially in the only paper representing a multiracial city such as London. Also, a more multiracial image, with a couple of black and Asian picture by- lines, might help circulation.

The Evening Standard is not alone in its approach to hiring non-white journalists. I have visited many newspaper offices and I know that black and Asian faces are depressingly rare. Black and Asian applicants are openly discriminated against on one tabloid. I have talked to a photographer told to exclude "darkies" from his pictures; I know of news desks that ask the colour of a rapist or a murder victim before deciding whether to run a story. Some papers are trying to modernise. But the idea of a British national newspaper following Newsweek by appointing a black editor is still risible, in spite of thousands of words printed on the evils of racism.

Diran Adebayo, an award-winning novelist, told me he was so discouraged by working for "ignorant" bosses on national newspapers that he eventually gave up and joined The Voice, the black paper. Now I am giving up too. I'm so sick of being ignored, pigeonholed and subtly insulted - and so hurt by receiving just occasional scraps from papers for whom I've I've done good work - that after 15 years I have begun to apply for jobs outside journalism. Yes, I'm aware that I'm not the most brilliant journalist on earth; I don't deserve a column, a staff job or vast amounts of freelance work just because I'm black. Yes, journalism is an overcrowded market; plenty of competent white hacks also have career difficulties. And no, I can't prove I've been a victim of bigotry.

But can it really be a coincidence that few non-white journalists get decent jobs or regular freelance slots? Why are my white journalist friends almost always more successful than black ones with similar qualifications? Am I imagining it when I say that I consistently get less respect and fewer opportunities?

I used to write articles in which I said black Brits would do better if they spent less time moaning about racism and more time grafting. But today I'm embittered, and more radical. The trouble is, racism is often impossible to prove. Many white newspaper executives are utterly charming. They invite you to parties and say they are colour-blind, and concerned about ethnic minorities. Some are sincere.

But most are hypocrites and closet racists who abuse (or fail constructively to use) the power they have. Because they run a vital information outlet it is difficult to criticise them publicly. But surely it is time to examine racism in the newspaper business. These smooth-talking members of the chattering classes must prove that they are as liberal as they claim.