#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.
Felipe Araujo
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Manchester's Muslim community under siege: "We are part of the fabric of this nation"

As the investigation into last week's bombing continues, familiar media narratives about Islam conflict with the city's support for its Muslim population.

“You guys only come when something like this happens,” said one of the worshippers at Manchester's Victoria Park Mosque, visibly annoyed at the unusual commotion. Four days after the attack that killed 22 people, this congregation, along with many others around the city, is under a microscope.

During Friday prayers, some of the world’s media came looking for answers. On the eve of Ramadan, the dark shadow of terrorism looms large over most mosques in Manchester and beyond.

“People who do this kind of thing are no Muslims,” one man tells me.

It’s a routine that has become all too familiar to mosque goers in the immediate aftermath of a major terror attack. In spite of reassurances from authorities and the government, Muslims in this city of 600,000 feel under siege. 

“The media likes to portray us as an add-on, an addition to society,” Imam Irfan Christi tells me. “I would like to remind people that in World War I and World War II Muslims fought for this nation. We are part of the fabric of this great nation that we are.”

On Wednesday, soon after it was revealed the perpetrator of last Monday’s attack, Salman Ramadan Abedi, worshipped at the Manchester Islamic Centre in the affluent area of Didsbury, the centre was under police guard, with very few people allowed in. Outside, with the media was impatiently waiting, a young man was giving interviews to whoever was interested.

“Tell me, what is the difference between a British plane dropping bombs on a school in Syria and a young man going into a concert and blowing himself up,” he asked rhetorically. “Do you support terrorists, then?” one female reporter retorted. 

When mosque officials finally came out, they read from a written statement. No questions were allowed. 

“Some media reports have reported that the bomber worked at the Manchester Islamic Centre. This is not true,” said the director of the centre’s trustees, Mohammad el-Khayat. “We express concern that a very small section of the media are manufacturing stories.”

Annoyed by the lack of information and under pressure from pushy editors, eager for a sexy headline, the desperation on the reporters’ faces was visible. They wanted something, from anyone, who had  even if a flimsy connection to the local Muslim community or the mosque. 

Two of them turned to me. With curly hair and black skin, in their heads I was the perfect fit for what a Muslim was supposed to look like.

"Excuse me, mate, are you from the mosque, can I ask you a couple of questions,” they asked. “What about?,” I said. "Well, you are a Muslim, right?" I laughed. The reporter walked away.

At the Victoria Park Mosque on Friday, Imam Christi dedicated a large portion of his sermon condemning last Monday’s tragedy. But he was also forced to once again defend his religion and its followers, saying Islam is about peace and that nowhere in the Koran it says Muslims should pursue jihad.

“The Koran has come to cure people. It has come to guide people. It has come to give harmony in society,” he said. “And yet that same Koran is being described as blood thirsty? Yet that same Koran is being abused to justify terror and violence. Who de we take our Islam from?”

In spite of opening its doors to the world’s media, mosques in Britain’s major cities know they can do very little to change a narrative they believe discriminates against Muslims. They seem to feel that the very presence of reporters in these places every time a terror attack happens reveals an agenda.

Despite this, on the streets of Manchester it has proved difficult to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Islam and the city’s Muslim community. Messages of unity were visible all over town. One taxi driver, a white working-class British man, warned me to not believe anything I read in the media.

“Half of my friends are British Muslims,” he said even before asked. “ These people that say Islam is about terrorism have no idea what they are talking about.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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