#AllWhiteFrontPages has been a key campaign for Media Diversified.
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Why the UK media needs more writers of colour

The launch of the Media Diversified directory aims to address the lack of diversity in the mainstream media.

Media Diversified, the organisation committed to the nurture and promotion of writers of colour, has just taken arguably its most important step since launching in July 2013. From this month onwards, it will make available an interactive online directory which media organisations can search if seeking people of colour to comment on the pressing issues of the day. This measure is the latest significant measure for an outlet which, despite only being only a few months old, has made a notable contribution to debate alongside its far larger peers. With the stated aim of “tackling the lack of diversity in UK media and the diversity of whiteness”, it has published a series of powerful critiques on current affairs, most recently by Chimene Suleyman and Judith Wanga in relation to media coverage of the Muslim schoolgirls who fled the UK to join Isis.

Samantha Asumadu, the documentary filmmaker and campaigner, recalls the moment when she decided to found Media Diversified. “A number of things came together at the same time,” she says. “I couldn’t get funding to do my second documentary despite the first one, The Super Ladies, being commissioned and funded by Aljazeera English. I read this article in the Voice, ‘The Evening Standard of Whiteness‘, and it stuck with me. Amol Rajan became editor of the Independent and it became big news in 2013, when really it shouldn’t have been such big news, but he was the first (non-white person to edit a mainstream national newspaper). I wrote this storify about it, A tale of everyday lack of diversity, and it became very popular, and the hashtag #AllWhiteFrontPages started due to it.”

Asumadu was then struck, she says, by several feminists on Twitter who were apparently positioning themselves as spokespeople for women of colour – in her words, “a lot of white feminists calling themselves intersectional feminists”.  As a result, Asumadu “wanted our voices to get heard and to speak for ourselves”.

Media Diversified has seen its audience grow swiftly, having amassed over 19,000 followers on Twitter and seeing those with far larger visibility on the site, such as the Times’ Caitlin Moran, regularly sharing its content. Unafraid of controversy or confrontation, it is currently requesting nominations for “The Trashies”; that is to say, those articles which most “rely on and perpetuate racism and Islamophobia, however subtle this may be”. To Asumadu, her organisation’s online directory of experts is merely another means of challenging what she sees as the media’s misinformed consensus. To be included in the directory, each expert must submit a written application to the Media Diversified website: if successful, their profiles will be made available to companies and charities who pay a subscription fee. The size of that fee will depend upon the size of the organisation, with three different tariffs for those who have ten or fewer employees, between ten and 50 employees, or more than 50 employees. Users can also pay not only for access to the database, but also for a project manager who will be on call for up to 24 hours a day to help with their queries.

As Asumadu is keen to point out, the directory and The Trashies are by no means the limits of Media Diversified’s ambitions. The outlet has launched a series of articles under the #OtherPolitics hashtag, which will provide a succession of alternative perspectives during the run-up to the UK’s general election in May. This summer, in addition, Media Diversified is providing content for Lebara Group’s new mobile digital hub for global migrant workers, and curating a panel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. In the longer term, it is working with West London’s Bush Theatre on a competition and training programme for cultural critics in theatre, film, and dance, and preparing a new website for long-form work, where it can promote authors so that, in Asumadu’s words, “we have our own Teju Cole and Ta-Nehisi Coates”. Supporters of Media Diversified’s output can also look forward to more investigative journalism, given that the organisation now has a budget to support such work, and a broader reach of coverage, with the call now out for a Middle East and North Africa editor. All in all, it is clear that Asumadu and her team are just getting started.

“We’re working on our own literary festival, which we hope to host at the Institute of Contemporary Arts,” she says. “We’ll continue to cultivate and publish skilled writers of colour, and we’re actively looking for poets who wish to try their hand at prose...We hope to do more workshops in camera skills, writing, and pundit skills. We want to be an alternative to VICE.”

Contributors to mediadiversified.org wrote for the New Statesman’s “Race and the Media” week. Read their articles here

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

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.