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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The Daily Mail’s reaction to Tom Daley’s baby is a reminder we’re not all equal yet

Columnist Richard Littlejohn seems to find it hard to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness.

Seeing as it’s LGBT+ history month, you would be forgiven for thinking that, just maybe, Britain could make it through 28 short days without a homophobic media controversy. But sadly, where optimism appears, the right-wing British press too often follows.

After the news that British Olympic diver Tom Daley and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance-Black are expecting their first child via a surrogate, radio station LBC quickly found itself in hot water. The station asked Twitter users whether, in their opinion, there is anything “sinister” about the woman carrying Daley and Lance-Black’s child being absent from the majority of media coverage. While there has long been a debate about the ethics of surrogacy, there are plenty of straight couples who have also turned to this option, and many nuances depending on the context, so the timing and wording of the question seemed pointed. LBC subsequently apologised for the “badly worded debate”.

But meanwhile, the printing presses were whirring.The main course to LBC’s starter, the Death Star to its Vadar and the hot dog to its mustard was springing into action. Otherwise known as: The Daily Mail.

Seemingly unable to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness, the paper employed its most un-lethal weapon, Richard Littlejohn, to put things right. In a piece entitled “Please don't pretend two dads is the new normal”, the columnist condemned the pair’s social media announcement, before expressing his discomfort at women being treated as “breeding machines” (again, note the sudden interest in the surrogacy debate). Next he takes aim at the media, lambasting them for covering this news just like any other baby announcement. Littlejohn then asks a series of erratic questions in quick succession. “Is Daley or his husband the father? Was it Bill, or was it Ben? Or neither of them?” Like a GSCE candidate who failed to revise for the exam, he soldiers on: “More pertinently, never mind Who's The Daddy? Who's The Mummy?”

By this point, you can practically picture Littlejohn, sweaty and misshapen, frothing at the mouth as he pummels his keyboard. Sensing that he’s out of material but still has half a page to fill, he haphazardly directs his hostility towards a trans woman who appeared in the news earlier this week, because why bother being homophobic when you can be transphobic too? Concluding the piece on a crescendo of awfulness, he “jokes” that he’s looking forward to the pictures of Daley breastfeeding, because apparently you can’t be a parent if you don’t breastfeed.

I suppose I should thank Littlejohn for proving, yet again, that the best way to transform male right-wing columnists into strident feminists is an opportunity to remind gay or trans people that they’ll never be seen as equals. Pre-emptively defending himself against accusations of homophobia within the article, Littlejohn claims he supported civil partnerships (but notably not same-sex marriages) long before “it was fashionable” to do so. Yet in 2004, the year that civil partnerships were introduced, Guardian columnist Marina Hyde dedicated an entire column to tracking his obsession with LGBT issues. “In the past year's Sun columns, Richard has referred 42 times to gays, 16 times to lesbians, 15 to homosexuals, eight to bisexuals, twice to 'homophobia' and six to being 'homophobic' (note his inverted commas), five times to cottaging, four to "gay sex in public toilets", three to poofs, twice to lesbianism, and once each to buggery, dykery, and poovery.” She writes, concluding: “This amounts to 104 references in 90-odd columns.”

The reaction to Littlejohn's latest piece was quick. Several organisations pulled out of advertising in the Daily Mail, a signal that the days of men like Littlejohn may soon be over. But whether published or not, this brand of homophobia is still prevalent in Britain. It appears when people claim not to have a problem with LGBT+ people, until one of their children comes out as gay or has a gay friend. It appears every time a person starts a sentence with “I’m not being homophobic, but…” It appears when gay parents, even those who have won Olympic medals and Academy Awards, are still only seen as a marginally better option that children being left to, as Littlejohn puts it, “rot in state run institutions where they face a better-than-average chance of being abused”.

As I suspect Littlejohn knows, no one is claiming that two dads is the new normal. Two gay parents is still a relatively new image for media and the public to digest, which has enabled this “debate” to happen. When 58 per cent of gay men are too afraid to hold hands with a partner in public, the idea that gay relationships are accepted enough to be considered anywhere close the “new normal” is ridiculous.

Yet Daley and Lance-Black’s announcement has revealed that, while homophobia is still mainstream enough to make it on to major platforms in the UK, it does not go unchallenged. We might not know what the tomorrow’s “normal” will be, but relics like Littlejohn represent the very worst of the past.