Society of Editors chief resigns over body’s response to Meghan racism claims

Resignation comes as publications withdrew from society’s annual awards over claim ‘UK media is not bigoted’

Vincent Wood@wood_vincent
Thursday 11 March 2021 02:55
Prince Harry says racism was ‘large part’ of why he and Meghan left the UK

The head of the journalism trade body the Society of Editors has stepped down after the organisation came under fire for its response to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s accusations of racism.

Ian Murray, the executive editor, said he must "take the blame" and step aside following heavy criticism of the industry body.

It comes after the ITV News presenter Charlene White said she would not host the society’s Press Awards, while outlets including the Huffington Post, the Yorkshire Post and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism said they would withdraw from the event after being nominated for their work.

The society initially responded to claims of racism in the media levelled by Harry and Meghan with a statement denying the claims - saying “the UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account”.

Following outcry from members of the UK press, the body said the statement was “made in that spirit” of defending freedom of speech, “but did not reflect what we all know: that there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion”.

Mr Murray added that the comment was "not intended to gloss over the fact the media industry in the UK does have work to do on inclusivity and diversity".

He said: "While I do not agree that the society's statement was in any way intended to defend racism, I accept it could have been much clearer in its condemnation of bigotry and has clearly caused upset.

"As executive director I lead the society and as such must take the blame and so I have decided it is best for the board and membership that I step aside so that the organisation can start to rebuild its reputation."

Mr Murray said he was stepping aside "with a heavy heart" adding he is "proud" of the society’s work "defending media freedom over the three years I have been at the helm as well as the initiatives we have created and continue to create on diversity in the newsroom".

Ahead of the resignation Ms White had announced her decision to step away from the hosting role in a letter, in which she described herself as “a black woman who has consistently stood up for what she believes in, irrespective of the impact it would have on my career”.

“Following your recent comments regarding race and the UK press, I have decided to no longer make myself available to present the Society Of Editors’ British Press Awards this month”, she wrote.

“A few years ago, your organisation approached me to become a judge for its awards and to work alongside you because at that time it was hugely lacking in terms of it being a fair reflection of the UK population. In other words, the nominations and winners list involved very few non-white journalists.

“This is not an unusual scenario unfortunately. Over the years several organisations have been held to account for eradicating and ignoring the work of ethnic minorities professionals - and women. So, you told me you wanted that to change. In fact, we spoke at length about it.

“But here’s the thing. I only work with organisations who practise what they preach. My time is precious, so I’d rather not waste 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 and its position in terms of how they treat ethnic minorities both inside and outside of its walls. But for some unknown reason, you feel as though the UK press is exempt in that discussion.”

She added: “So perhaps it’s best for you to look elsewhere for a host for your awards this year. Perhaps someone whose views align with yours: that the UK press is the one institution in the entire country who has a perfect record on race.”

Meanwhile publications the awards had been set to praise were also keen to distance themselves from the organisation.

Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson wrote in a letter to readers that he would not enter into the society’s awards for regional journalism “with regret but absolute conviction”, adding “as a forty-something white man, I feel woefully short of credentials to bring to this fight, but I will be damned if the colour of my skin and my perceived social status is going to prevent me from listening, learning, bettering myself and my workplace”.

Meanwhile The Bureau of Investigative Journalism said the society’s “statement denying bigotry and racism in the UK media shows a lack of awareness and understanding of deep-rooted and persistent problems that we see”.

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