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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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.