Yet another pleading Letter to Media Editors won’t change the “Colour of the News”.
But here are the issues to challenge, overcome and the opportunities to create
By Thomas L Blair, rev. 05 March 2019 ©
The pathway to media equality and equity for Black scribes is littered with hate-bombs: Low status. Less esteem, Wage gaps. No job mobility. Uncaring editors and media barons. But the so-called “diversity manifesto” of the newly-created 100 member Black Journalists Collective UK (BJCUK) fails on several counts. Failure to recognise the roots of media prejudices. Neglect to appreciate the history of Black protest against media excesses. Failure to target the media’s unmet commitments.
Let’s recap the manifesto. Introduced by Marverine Cole, Journalist, Broadcast & Academic at Birmingham City University, an unsigned Letter to Editors claims that Black journalists are not treated equally. They remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in all the medias. Their absence leads to “the poor and misleading quality of reporting related to people of colour in the UK”.
The Black Journalists Collective’s letter urges editors to improve recruitment and close the ethnicity pay gap. [Only 0.2% of working journalists are black and only 0.4% are Muslim]. The result could be “newsrooms that reflect the society they serve”. Otherwise, “the poor and misleading quality of reporting related to people of colour in the UK” will persist.
Sounds great, right? It would be if it reflected reality. But the letter-writing Black journalists failed to draw on the decades-old issues in Britain’s race and the media history. Issues that are relevant for everyone involved in journalism, both professionals and trainees, whether working in print, broadcast or the new media.
On employment: Decades ago, Dr. Beulah Ainley, author of Black Journalists, White Media, noted that Black and Asian faces were rare among Britain’s journalists who gather and process the nation’s news. Twelve to 20 Black journalists were employed during the mid-1990s in national newspapers, out of a workforce of 3000. Furthermore, a 1998 study of sixty newspapers exposed a wall of silence, according to a diversity research project by The Chronicle Internet magazine and The Freedom Forum European Centre.
On the shortage of Black applications: We know that editors falsely disputed these figures. They claimed the cause is a shortage of suitable applicants from minorities and not a shortage of institutional will. Yet, “Not only did Black people apply for journalism training and jobs but they did so for months and sometimes years”, said the NUJ Journalist, December 1998.
On the history of newsrooms negative attitudes: Six decades ago in 1958, rabble-rousing white youths attacked Notting Hill Blacks screaming “niggers out”. Then the Daily Mail published an incendiary piece headlined ‘Should We Let Them Keep Coming In?’, and called for tighter immigration controls. Seems like little has changed in these strife-torn Brexit days.
On Black media workers protest: Protesting media inequality is not new – it was pioneered in the 1970s by the Black Media Workers Association led by Dianne Abbott, now Labour MP, and the NUJ-backed Race Relations Working Party. Editors and owners resisted them every time.
On the Media’s response: Positive race-centred social policy interventions have failed. Now famous inquiries damned the appalling media responses to “race disorders”. Most important indictments came from the Brixton Inquiry and Scarman Report in 1982 and the Lawrence Inquiry and Macpherson Report that appeared eighteen years later in 1999.
On failed commitments: Journalist and Professor Richard Keeble said “Clearly there is evidence that managers fail to keep up the momentum of their commitments to race equality practices”, in his Ethics for Journalists book
On dumbing down Black and foreign news: The marginalisation of African and Asian news is part of the general failure of the media’s presentation of foreign news. Journalist Martyn Lewis noted in 1993 that TV correspondents writing success stories were side-lined by the stereotyped newsroom view of Africa “racked by war, famine, corruption and Aids”.
Critics argue that such attitudes still prevail. Recently, the fund raising Comic Relief halted its use of white celebrities for appeals in Africa. Described by an aid watchdog as “poverty tourism” that reinforce white saviour stereotypes”, reports The Guardian.
On race bias in reporting: Down the production line, racial prejudice impedes accurate reports. Twenty thousand protestors challenged “racist reporting” of the New Cross fire on Black People’s Day of Action, 2 March 1981.
Protests followed the Guardian’s discredited Broadwater Farm story. They reported that “In 1985, the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham erupted. Fuelled by racism, social exclusion, police brutality, poverty and the like, youths took to the streets”.
The MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, provides an excellent explanation of the inflammatory media coverage of the 2011 London and national riots in his book Out of the Ashes.
Young Black men were systematically portrayed negatively as crime-prone in the mainstream media, according to the REACH study of 2011.
In sum, The Collective’s letter did not report the perils of British race-media history: media prejudices, Black protest, and unmet commitments to equality and equity.
The new Black journalist –Press for Progress and a FAIR MEDIA
Newsrooms need history-smart, socially conscious Black journalists to change the colour of the news. The challenge is to construct a FAIR MEDIA and more accurate presentations of Black people. The best and most competent adversaries will recall that the abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s North Star spoke to and for Black people out of a history of anti-slavery protest in London and the colonies.
Of course invigorated Black scribes will ply their trade [they are paid to do it]. But the prize-winners will write newsworthy stories that reveal something new, surprising, creative and significant about Black and minority ethnic communities.
Furthermore, a hardy band of comrades will mark the critical issues involved in journalism, for students, trainees and professionals. They’ll challenge British newsrooms run as private and racially exclusive clubs.
Advocates know that occasionally liberally minded media barons can and do offer Black journalists outstanding prospects and salaries. But what the Collective fails to understand is that media restrictive practices are unfair. Concessions to them won’t change things – or save their jobs.
However,the prototypes for success are at hand. Staples are special training programmes and strategies to recruit, promote and retain minority staff. Black journalists should require no less than zero tolerance of discrimination. And urge close monitoring of the performance and attitudes of senior managers.
In truth, Black journalists can be strongly on the side of Black people and still pitch themselves to insist on a FAIR MEDIA FOR ALL. But it will take more than pleading to uncaring editors and media barons who influence public opinion. And here are the pillars of change.
- Create human resource managers and race equality employment practices in newsgathering and publishers organisations
- Affirm that discriminatory restrictive practices break acknowledged fair employment practices
- Improve race relations and pay standards throughout the media industry
- Warn media regulatory bodies and trade associations that persistent race-media delinquents must not be tolerated
- Encourage unbiased policies and actions from the professional organisations — the Newspaper Publishers Association, the Society of Editors and the Society of Newspaper Editors
- Write the Every Teacher’s Manual for the journalism schools that feed graduates into the industry’s newsrooms.
- Enhance opportunities to influence debate on press and broadcasting freedom, ethics and the culture and business of news media.
- Challenge diversity fatigue in the media industry and the BBC
- Organise a National Association of Black Journalists
- Establish fraternal alliances with African, Caribbean and diaspora news outlets and forge trans-Atlantic alliances with the US National Associations of Black, Asian and Latino journalists
- Moreover, new-style Black journalists must tell media owners, advertisers and marketers that the media public is growing more diverse in interests and demands. Blacks and Asians are now significant part the media public: therefore, they are readers and consumers to be catered for.
Call for Action for Black Journalists and the media
Clearly, Black journalists have a harder row to hoe than whites do. Crucially, they must cast off the blinkers — and halters, too. Black scribes, the past is not past. The present is not post-racial. And you are free to progress new ideas that wash away the stale old ones clogging up the newsrooms.
Think about a future in mainstream media industries. Create the hotbed of new ideas inside the newsrooms. You’ll know you’ve built a future when history-armed Black journalists report the wellsprings of creativity in predominantly Black neighbourhoods and social housing. You’ll feel it when you “write the wrongs of media prejudice”. And you’ll know it when you get your awards for accurately depicting and engaging with Black public intellectuals, innovative activists, ethnic migrants, students, workers and artists, and Asian and white allies.
Moreover, why not launch the first Black British E-zine to inform, educate and entertain subscribers. Why not develop your skills in immersive journalism, producing news that gives people the chance to gain first-person experiences of events and situations described in news stories. Delivered via the internet, smart media and email you can reach thousands of Millennials and Alpha generation youth. Launched a Not-for-Profit enterprise that’s independent and low-cost, you will be your own writers, editors and cooperative proprietors in charge. WHY NOT???
Black scribes, by your actions three things will surely happen. Old race-biased habits and barriers in the mainstream newsrooms will crumble. Media bosses wil value innovative news gatherers and commentators. And 21st century Black communities will benefit.
CAVEAT CANEM – Letter to the spokesperson. Why the anonymity?
Dear Ms Marverine Cole
Director of the BA (Hons) Journalism course
Birmingham City University
Your Letter to Editors claims the 100-member Black Journalists Collective (BJCUK) “work across the industry at organisations including The Guardian, the Daily Mirror, Sky News, BBC News and ITN, the home of ITV News, Channel 4 News and 5 News”. https://twitter.com/BJCUK1 However, critics raise some important concerns.
Unnamed journalists –Why haven’t “the 100” signed the Letter to Editors?
- What are their professional credentials?
- What posts do they hold — trainee, fulltime, freelance, reporters, broadcasters, editorial, management — or other including college and journalism school lecturers/professors?
- How did you recruit them?
- Are they members of the National Union of Journalists and Black Members Council?
- How many and what proportion are Black British of African, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora roots — and how many are white, Asian and “other”?
- Have fellow non-Collective Black journalists and community leaders read and confirmed your Letter?
- What is the Collective’s stand in the bruising battle of race-media issues the Chronicleworld describes.
Indeed, what prompted the Letter? Why the anonymity? And how many editors have replied in support since your launch, asks the veteran newsman Alex Pascall OBE. He is the former chair of the NUJ Black Members Council and member of the NUJ National Executive Council and main speaker for the 2019 Claudia Jones Lecture Series named after the founder of the first modern Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News.
I’m sure you will agree that in these troubled times – of the Grenfell tower fire tragedy and the Windrush Generation debacle and deportations — Black journalists have a crucial role to play in constructing a FAIR MEDIA for the 21st century.
I welcome a reply at your earliest convenience.
SIGNED Professor Thomas L Blair
Editor and Publisher
for Black British politics, history, culture
Read more. Scroll to
August 11, 2016
Reporting on Race, November 4, 2007
Campaign and Conscience:
WHAT IS THE BLACK BRITISH PRESS FOR? June 24, 2008