Where are all the black faces?

A new magazine has been launched to challenge the lack of black journalists in the media. By Naomi Marks

THE PHRASE "institutional racism" has been widespread in the media in 1999. As the police, fire service, civil service and other areas of public life have been forced to take a long, hard look at themselves, TV, radio and newspapers have reported it all. But, according to those behind a new magazine launch next week, it is time the media turned their gaze inwards and posed themselves the questions they have been asking of others.

THE PHRASE "institutional racism" has been widespread in the media in 1999. As the police, fire service, civil service and other areas of public life have been forced to take a long, hard look at themselves, TV, radio and newspapers have reported it all. But, according to those behind a new magazine launch next week, it is time the media turned their gaze inwards and posed themselves the questions they have been asking of others.

In the absence, they believe, of the mainstream media doing so, they are asking the questions themselves. The Black Media Journal is being launched to solve what has been described as an "amnesia" affecting Britain's media industry; a disregard of the cultural diversity of the UK that has resulted in an imbalance in ethnic minority representation in all areas of the media.

The Black Media Journal is an attempt to throw light on the imbalance and challenge it. According to the writer and broadcaster Marc Wadsworth, managing editor of the Journal : "The old battles haven't been won. The media have prettied up the shop window. There are more black faces on TV and one or two black journalists on Fleet Street but the shop floor hasn't changed much." Hence the need, he says, for a title that tackles the issues in a readily accessible way.

The Black Media Journal , he explains, will fall somewhere between the black glossy Pride , and the more academic Race and Class . It will start out as a quarterly but there are plans to turn it monthly. And it has the support of some big names in the industry. The first edition, price £3.50, will feature a piece by the broadcaster and would-be mayor of London Trevor Phillips on the struggles facing black independent programme makers, and there is an interview with the scriptwriter, author and actress Meera Syal, whose Goodness Gracious Me! series has been one of the recent hits of BBC comedy. Aiming to be an inclusive forum, it has white writers, too. The BBC2 controller Jane Root has contributed an article on the channel's commitment to diverse and minority programming, while Brian Cathcart, a former deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday , has written on the iconography surrounding the Stephen Lawrence case. In it he questions whether the murdered teenager would still have been a cause célÿbre , albeit belatedly, for a paper such as the Daily Mail , if he had been a Rastafarian.

The motivating force behind the Black Media Journal is Claudine Boothe, a broadcaster and academic whose idea to create a campaigning, research and training institute that would tackle the issues of black under-representation in the media, and combine it with a journal looking at the same issues, was first conceived in 1993. It took several years of battling to find the finances to make the idea come to fruition but, thanks to funding from the European Social Fund, the Arts Council and the Single Regeneration Board, the doors to the Black Media Institute opened in Hackney, East London, in October 1998. Now, a year later, the Journal , too, is seeing the light of day.

"What I want the BMI and the BMJ to be is the place where the debate for the representation of black people is kept alive and is progressed without fear or favour, a place where we see what the situation is and seek solutions," she says.

"Our target is to ensure that the British media represents ethnic minorities, including the Afro Caribbean and Asian populations, fairly. They will be hearing from us if they don't."

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