#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.
Rex Features
Show Hide image

Keir Starmer: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting Brexit wrong”

The former director of public prosecutions is now heading up Labour’s response to Brexit. But can he succeed in holding the Tories’ feet to the fire?

Early in his new role as shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer was accused of being a “second-rate lawyer”. The gibe, in a Commons debate, came from none other than Iain Duncan Smith. Starmer was director of public prosecutions for five years and later stood for parliament in 2015. No novice, then. Within a few days, Duncan Smith stood again in the House, this time to offer his apologies.

A fortnight later, I met Starmer at his quiet office in Westminster. He was sitting at a table piled with papers, in an office that, a discreet family photo aside, was unadorned. He had just got back from a whirlwind trip to Brussels, with many more such visits planned in the weeks ahead.

Starmer returned to the shadow cabinet after Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election victory last month. “The series of agreements we will have to reach in the next few years is probably the most important and complex we’ve had to reach since the Second World War,” he told me.

Starmer, who is 54, took his time entering politics. Born in 1962, he grew up in a Labour-supporting household in Surrey – his father was a toolmaker and his mother a nurse – and was named after Keir Hardie. After studying law at Leeds University, he practised as a human rights barrister and became a QC in 2002. In 2008, after varied legal work that included defending environmental campaigners in the McLibel case, he became the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales as well as director of public prosecutions, positions he held until 2013.

When in 2015 Starmer ran for a seat in parliament to represent Holborn and St Pancras in London, it was assumed he would soon be putting his expertise to use in government. Instead, after Labour’s election defeat under Ed Miliband, he served as one of Corbyn’s junior shadow ministers, but resigned after the EU referendum in June.

Now, he is back on the opposition front bench and his forensic scrutiny of government policy is already unsettling the Conservatives. Philippe Sands, the law professor who worked with him on Croatia’s genocide lawsuit against Serbia, says he couldn’t think of anyone better to take on the Brexiteers in parliament. “It’s apparent that the government is rather scared of him,” Sands said. This is because Starmer is much more capable of teasing out the legal consequences of Brexit than the average Brexit-supporting Tory MP. Sands added: “It would be fun to watch if the stakes weren’t so very high.”

Starmer is a serious man and refused to be drawn on the character of his opponents. Instead, speaking slowly, as if weighing every word, he spelled out to me the damage they could cause. “The worst scenario is the government being unable to reach any meaningful agreement with the EU and [the UK] crashing out in March 2019 on no terms, with no transitional arrangement.” The result could be an economic downturn and job losses: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting this wrong.”

If Starmer seems pessimistic, it is because he believes time is short and progress has been slow. Since the referendum, disgruntled MPs have focused their attention on the final Brexit settlement. Yet if, as he argues, the starting position for our negotiations with the EU is wrong, the damage will have been done. MPs faced with a bad deal must either approve it or “risk the UK exiting the EU without a deal at all”.

It is this conviction that is driving his frantic schedule now. Starmer’s first month in the job is packed with meetings - with the representatives of the devolved nations, business leaders and his European counterparts.

He has also become a familiar face at the dispatch box. Having secured a commitment from David Davis, the minister for Brexit, that there will be transparent debate – “the words matter” – he is now demanding that plans to be published in January 2017 at the earliest, and that MPs will have a vote at this stage.

In his eyes, it will be hard for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to resist, because devolved parliaments and the European parliament will almost certainly be having a say: “The idea there will be a vote in the devolved administrations but not in Westminster only needs to be stated to see it’s unacceptable.”

In Europe, Starmer said, the view is already that Britain is heading for the cliff edge. It was May’s pledge, that after Brexit the UK would not “return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”, which raised alarm. And among voters, there is “increasing anxiety” about the direction in which the UK is moving, he said. Even Tory voters are writing to him.

In the Labour Party, which is putting itself back together again after the summer’s failed coup, immigration remains the most vexed issue. Starmer told me that Labour had “earned a reputation for not listening” on the issue. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show shortly after becoming shadow Brexit secretary, he said immigration was too high and ought to be reduced. But later that same day, Diane Abbott, a shadow cabinet colleague, contradicted him, publicly criticising immigration targets.

Starmer believes there is a bigger picture to consider when it comes to Britain’s Brexit negotiations. Take national security, where he warns that there are “significant risks” if communications break down between the UK and the EU. “Part of the negotiations must be ensuring we have the same level of co-operation on criminal justice, counterterrorism, data-sharing,” he said.

Crucially, in a Labour Party where many experienced politicians are backbench dissenters, he wants to reach out to MPs outside the shadow cabinet. “We have to work as Team Labour,” he stressed.

It’s a convincing rallying cry. But for some MPs, he represents more than that: a lone moderate in what can be seen as a far-left leadership cabal. Does he have any ambitions to lead Labour? “Having had two leadership elections in the space of 12 months, the last thing we need at the moment is discussion of the leadership of the Labour Party.” He has agreed to serve in the shadow cabinet, and is determined to stay there.

Starmer has found his purpose in opposition. “If we think things aren’t going right, we’ve got to call it out early and loudly. The worst situation is that we arrive at March 2019 with the wrong outcome. By then, it will be too late.”

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage