The press cannot ignore its issue with diversity

Editorial: In the wake of Harry and Meghan’s comments on racism, the British media has rightly come under renewed scrutiny. Denying the problem serves only to stand in the way of meaningful change

Wednesday 10 March 2021 09:51
<p>The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spoke to Oprah Winfrey in an interview broadcast this week</p>

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spoke to Oprah Winfrey in an interview broadcast this week

The statement issued by Buckingham Palace on behalf of the Queen, and with every sign of her personal approval, was important, balanced and wise. Many of the matters raised by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are, essentially, private matters best resolved within that family. Who was “right” about certain incidents is not something for outsiders to judge, and there is no great public interest involved.

However, the accusations of racism in the highest circles obviously need to be addressed with particular force, and the nation reassured that appropriate action is indeed being taken. If recollections “vary”, then the palace still has a duty to the public to demonstrate that there is no racism in an institution that purports to reflect and unite the diverse nation and Commonwealth it serves. In truth, it has no choice in the matter.

That, too, goes for the British media, which has rightly come under renewed scrutiny in recent days. There are few who would seek to justify everything that has been reported and written about Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in recent years, even in the name of free speech. To put it bluntly, some of it was untrue, unwittingly so or not; some was at least bordering on racism; and there was some unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Meghan, as recent court actions indicate, has the right to defend her human rights. When she handed her passport, keys and driving licence in to the royal household officials, she did not also surrender her right to privacy and a family life. The press should hold the rich and powerful to account, but where there is a clear public interest, and not from prurient curiosity about private lives.

It is no use pretending that the British media has covered itself in glory over the years in its treatment of race, as the Black Lives Matter movement has shown. Some of the criticism of BLM that has appeared in the press is fair comment, some not, and some represented an abuse of the right to speech, but such excesses are the price we pay for a free press.

It is also true that the media has not consistently promoted harmonious relations between ethnic groups, it is fair to say, and those responsible might as well acknowledge the sorry fact, and reflect on it.

Undoubtedly, it would be healthier if newsrooms were more diverse. Workplace cultures matter. It is not simply a matter of fairness and recruiting the best talent, though those are obviously germane. It is more a matter of practical journalism: it is impossible to report on and reflect contemporary British society with a team of staff and contributors that are overwhelmingly white, “hideously” so, as was once famously said.

The media, no more or less than the monarchy, or the Baftas, to give another topical example, needs to be connected to the wider community. In the interests of transparency, The Independent acknowledges that it, too, has work to do and has recently appointed Nadine White as race correspondent to begin to tackle some of those issues.

Things do need to change. The worst thing the British media can do now is to go into denial and to gaslight its critics.

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