#AllWhiteFrontPages: Challenging the lack of ethnic minority representation in the media

Samantha Asumadu, founder of Media Diversity UK, explains the background to its campaigns.

It’s about three months since I launched Media Diversity UK and our Twitter feed @WritersofColour. Over 100,000 views later on the website, we’re hitting goals I had never even aimed for. First and foremost, we found an audience. That audience has brought us opportunities. The intention was always to feature a wide selection of subjects from gaming, TV and immigration to geopolitical analysis of Middle East conflicts - the difference being that finally readers would get to read content that was from the point of view of a non-white person. Of course there are universal traits but our experiences colour our outlook. That experience could be like mine, raised on a council estate in Clapham, or that of a middle class black woman, who was sent to boarding school and may end up working at a FTSE company.

Media Diversity UK is a non-profit organisation. It is a place where writers of colour who have been unable to break into the mainstream media or have been marginalised can publish their work. Our aim is to help writers and journalists of colour to be published in national newspapers and magazines and to get their voices heard in the broadcast media. We do this by giving them advice, contacts, promoting their work online and of course by word of mouth, which in Life 2.0 is Twitter and Facebook. Our most successful article has had over 20,000 hits and there are others equally as good that have had only 500 (that was an article about Syria).

My aim is to bridge that gap so people are reading our feminism and popular culture articles but also reading the subjects that embrace geopolitics, ethnic conflicts, resources and the structural effects of racism and how to tackle it. One of my favourite reads each week is our "This Week In Islamophobia" column by a writer called Yasin Bangee, who lives in the north of England. He has charted the rise of Islamophobia and media prejudice, with a wry and individual tone that keeps readers coming back.

Both our campaigns, #AllWhiteFrontPages and #AllWhiteTV have seen success in some quarters and resistance in others. We launched the #AllWhiteTV campaign at the end of August. The chair of the Royal Society of Television diversity committee approached me to work with them after seeing the work we’d done on #Allwhitefrontpages. A group of volunteers found mainly from Twitter began monitoring primetime TV on the terrestrial channels on Sunday 1 September and finished on the following Sunday. It was an eye-opening experience for the volunteers who were of mixed backgrounds, some who had rarely watched any terrestial TV before. The results will be presented at an event for TV industry decision makers in October.

The Twitter campaign #AllWhiteFrontPages aims to raise awareness of British media’s need to include ethnic minority groups in their stories. Frequently every image featured on the front pages of the national newspapers is of a white person. When the media does cover stories of people from diverse backgrounds and class the stories are often negative, reinforcing stereotypes. Our overriding aim is to bring equity and the "normalisation" of ethnic diversity to our screens, to the radio and in our newspapers.

Our writers range from talented teenagers to seasoned academics and authors. We recently launched a space for experimental academic-type writing, curated by Yasmin Gunaratnam, a lecturer at Goldsmiths. We also recently launched the #EightWomen poll about notable women of colour, all of whom were successful in their fields, all of whom made a difference - but who would you vote has changed the UK?

Media Diversity UK (though we may change the name soon, as we are hoping to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation) isa collective and a space where we can support and encourage each other. Sometimes when I get a submission I wll ask the writer if they want to submit it to the mainstream media first. Sometimes they reply “no” as they’d prefer not to receive the torrent of racist comments they see other writers get, such as those under my first article for the Guardian.

Our comments range from two lines to contributions bordering on essays but they always engage critically with the material, for which we’re all thankful!

One of the highlights of the last couple of months was going on Dotun Adenayo’s Sunday night BBC London Show with Minna Salami. We were discussing this article which we successfully pitched to the Telegraph’s Wonder Woman section, written by Joy Goh-Mah. It was a fun hour despite the difficult and emotive subject matter and I was surprised and pleased when one woman from a feminist group I belong to said it had gone viral around black women in London as they rarely get to hear one, let alone two, black women on a radio show debating on primetime broadcast media. It seems a long way a way from creating the Storify about #AllWhiteFrontPages and being ecstatic when the Head of Comment at the Times tweeted me back to say he’d noted my happiness that they’d featured a non-white woman on their front pages (in July during Ascot).

I’m grateful to Rodney Sealy who wrote an article titled "The 'Evening Standard’ Of Whiteness" in the Voice newspaper. It was really that article that gave me inspiration for our motto: "Tackling the ubiquity of whiteness".

Sealy did a simple analysis of pictures in one edition of the Evening Standard,  andafter completion he decided to boycott the paper. This quote stuck with me:

Does London’s only paper reflect the reality of London life in 2013? - 40 per cent of ethnic Londoners are crudely white washed out of its view of our city is a terrible indictment. People of colour did not feature on any page as fully formed characters as often as we should but, in fact, if we all packed up and left, London would grind to a juddering halt. We are integral to this city’s smooth functioning.

Simple and true.

The Twitter campaign #AllWhiteFrontPages aims to raise awareness of British media’s need to include ethnic minority groups in their stories. Photo: Getty
Samantha Asumadu is a documentary filmmaker, campaigner and founder of Media Diversity UK. She was previously based in East Africa, Great Lakes region and is now based in London.
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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue