Exclusive report: Are the media racist?

New Statesman survey shows ethnic minorities are still largely absent from opinion pages, senior roles and staff.

In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence verdict and Diane Abbott's "divide and rule" tweet, racism is at the top of the political agenda.

To coincide with a special report on race in the British media for this week's New Statesman magazine, we have compiled shocking statistics which show ethnic minorities are still largely absent from opinion pages, senior executive roles and staff jobs in the media.

For context: figures published by the Office of National Statistics for 2009 showed the non-white population of England and Wales stood at 16.7 per cent - or one in six people.


In numbers: Race in the media


  • 2 of the 99 named witnesses at the Leveson inquiry into the press are from ethnic minorities
  • 1 of the Guardian's 2011 guide to the 100 most important people in the media was not white
  • 0 national newspaper editors are not white
  • 0 national newspaper political editors are not white


In numbers: The commentariat


We surveyed the main comment pages of selected newspapers in the week between Monday 5 December and Sunday 11 December to count the number of non-white writers who appeared.

  • 3 newspapers did not have a single non-white writer on the comment pages
  • 5 non-white writers have a regular weekly fixed column in the British broadsheet press

*Numbers include Sunday sister publications

[An important point on methodology: the numbers above refer to those columnists who occupy, specifically, the prime real estate that is a newspaper's "comment and opinion" pages. They do not count the non-white writers who write columns in other sections of a newspaper. For example, Baz Bamigboye, the Daily Mail's black showbiz columnist, is not included in the statistics. Nor is the Guardian G2's Aditya Chakrabortty, who writes on ideas and economics.]

As Mehdi Hasan writes in an essay for the special report:

What have the following five individuals got in common: Gary Younge, Hugh Muir, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Amol Rajan and India Knight? They are part of a small group of non-white newspaper columnists who appear regularly on the comment pages of our national newspapers. Well, OK, not quite. They are the small group of non-white newspaper columnists who appear on those comment pages. That's it. There's just five of them - the Guardian's Younge and Muir (both black), the Independent/i's Alibhai-Brown and Rajan (both Asian) and the Sunday Times's Knight (mixed race).

It is a deeply depressing state of affairs.

Elsewhere in this special report, Rafael Behr writes about the "monochrome majority" in the lobby. Plus, leading media figures including the FT's Lionel Barber answer the question: why isn't our press more diverse?

A memorial service programme for Stephen Lawrence. Photo: Getty

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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When the world seems dark and terrifying, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to dream of Utopia

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there.

There are many cruel and routine lies we tell to children but perhaps the most indicative is this: if you tell anyone your wish, it won’t come true. This parable was probably invented by parents trying to avoid the trauma of not being able to give their children what they want but we carry it with us to adulthood, when it is repeated to us by our leaders. Don’t tell anyone the sort of world you would like to see – at best you’ll be disappointed and at worst you’ll be arrested.

“We want more.” This week, exhausted by the news, I dragged myself out of the house to a book fair, where I came across a new collection of utopian fiction by radical women. That was the first line and it stopped my breath in my throat. When basic survival seems like a stretch goal, caught as we are between the rich and the rising seas, hope feels like an unaffordable luxury. The precise words I used to the bookseller were, “Shut up and take my money.”

There has never been a more urgent time for utopian ideas, precisely because the concept of a better world has never felt further away. Right now, world leaders are deciding how many cities are going to sink before something is done to reduce carbon emissions. They are meeting in Paris, which very recently saw the opening scene of a new act in everyone’s least favourite dramatic franchise, “War in the Middle East”. We seem to be living in a dystopian trilogy scripted by a sadistic young-adult author and I very much hope that our plucky young heroes show up to save the day soon, even if there’s a clunky love triangle involved.

Dystopias are easy to construct: to paraphrase the novelist Kim Stanley Robinson, you might as well pick five news headlines at random, make a collage and there’s your plot. Utopias are harder. Utopias require that we do the difficult, necessary work of envisioning a better world. This is why imagination is the first, best weapon of radicals and progressives.

Utopian stories existed long before the word was coined by Thomas More in the 16th century to mean an ideal society, or “no-place”. Plato’s Republic has some claim to being the first but there are as many Utopias as there are communities that dreamed of a better life. The greatest age of utopian fiction was the turn of the last century and it is no accident that the early 21st century is a great age of dystopian fiction. The ideology of late-capitalist patriarchy has become so all-encompassing that it no longer looks like ideology. Fredric Jameson observed, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” – and the reason for that is not that capitalism is the inevitable destiny of humankind but that we have spent our lives being told that even thinking about any other future makes us ridiculous.

Most leftists do have an idea of the sort of world they would prefer to see. We don’t say what we want for the same reason that we were told as children not to tell anyone else what we wished for – because it’ll be awkward and painful if we don’t get it.

When I think about Utopia, I think about my grandmother. My mother’s mother left school at 13, lived through the Maltese blockade and was obliged by religion and circumstance to marry young, suffocate all her dreams of education and adventure and spend her life taking care of a husband and six kids. Half a century later, I can choose when and whether to have children. I can choose to live independently from men. I regularly travel alone and there are no legal restrictions on getting any job I’m suited for.

The kind of independence many women my age can enjoy would have been almost unimaginable half a century ago – but somebody did imagine it and that is why we got here. A great many somebodies, over centuries of struggle and technological advancement, asked how the world could be different for women and set about making it happen.

Exactly a century ago, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel Herland envisioned a society of women in which production was communal, motherhood was valued, relationships were equal and rape and violence were unknown. Reading Herland today, it is striking that for every proposition that came true – women are now allowed to divorce their husbands and participate fully in political life – there are two more that seem as far-fetched now as they did in 1915. Motherhood is still not valued as work. Women are still expected to organise our lives around the threat of sexual violence. But all that can change as long as we continue to ask for more.

For as long as I have been a feminist, I have been asked – usually by grumbling men – when, exactly, we will be satisfied; when women and girls will decide we have enough. The answer is contained in the question: because the instant that we do decide that we are satisfied, that there can never be a better world than this, is the instant that the future shuts down and change becomes impossible.

Utopia is the search for Utopia. It is the no-place by whose light you plot a course through a harsh and unnavigable present. By the time you reach the horizon, it is no longer the horizon but that doesn’t mean you stop going forwards.

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there. In the midst of multiple global crises, the only truly ridiculous proposition is that things are going to stay exactly the same.

Human societies are going to change beyond recognition and from the conference table to the streets, our best shot at surviving that change starts when we have the courage to make impossible demands – to face down ridicule and say, “We want more.”

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State