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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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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