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Racism is ‘commonplace’ in UK journalism with more senior Black staff needed across industry, report warns

Many Black journalists feel unsupported and have their ideas routinely rejected, ‘shocking’ research shows

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Tuesday 28 March 2023 00:01 BST
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(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Racism is “commonplace” in the UK journalism industry, which needs more Black people in senior positions and more race correspondents to improve diversity of coverage, a new study has found.

Published on Tuesday by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), the report lays bare the stark challenges faced by Black journalists in the British news media.

Written by Dr Aida Al-Kaisy, a media development advisor at EJN, Structural Racism in UK Newsrooms is based on 27 in-depth interviews with Black journalists and stakeholders who have or are currently working in national mainstream media newsrooms across print, online and broadcast media.

Many feel unsupported, have their ideas routinely rejected, are made to feel as though they don’t belong and have no one in a senior position to look to for impartial guidance, the report warns.

The project, funded by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, is described as a “shocking expose” on the lack of progress on diversity in UK media where Black journalists account for just 0.2 per cent of the staff members compared with three per cent of their UK population, according to a recent breakdown.

White journalists comprise 94 per cent of the whole journalistic workforce, data from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2015 highlighted. There hasn’t been a recent comparison of these numbers.

(Getty Images)

The report said the proportion of Black journalists had increased in recent years and there had also been a heightened sense of the possibility for change since 2020 with the increased momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Black journalists said that newsroom processes continued to be exclusionary and discrimination is rife.

“When you walk into a newsroom it is like apartheid. You are instantly categorised by the colour of your skin,” one journalist told researchers, echoing a warning in the report that Black journalists are being “pigeonholed” into covering certain topics.

The report also found that traditional approaches to “diversity and inclusion”, such as schemes, are not working in UK news media because they “do little to address the structural issues in the industry or indeed society at large”.

It also argues that news reporting on racism and structural racism is one way to draw public attention to the problem. However, a “culture of fear” operates where Black people fear losing their job if they speak up about issues they face.

There is a sense that the work of individual Black journalists is being co-opted so that media organisations can appear to be championing diversity, while newsrooms are often seen a hostile environments, the report adds.

One Black journalist told researchers: “I feel like I am a shadow of myself in the newsroom. I don’t show my personality. I am anxious about how I am perceived whether as loud or rowdy.”

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Marcus Ryder MBE, head of external consultancies at the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for media diversity at Birmingham City University, said: “News organisations across the UK cannot report accurately, impartially and objectively on the world until racism in their own newsrooms is addressed.

“While this in-depth report should concern everyone working in the news industry, the findings have repercussions on how democracy in our society works, which stories are heard, and most importantly who holds power to account.”

The report’s recommendations include calling for senior leadership to change the make-up of newsrooms to reflect improvements in diversity at entry level, as well as in wider UK society.

Recent research by Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford shows that, in the UK, none of top ten online news outlets and ten top offline news in its sample of 100 titles had a non-white top editor.

As part of its recommendations, the EJN suggests that further work should be undertaken at an organisational level to incentivise media managers to recruit and promote Black journalists to management positions. The report also called for greater transparency in decision-making in all aspects of the news-making process.

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