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12 January 2012updated 27 Sep 2015 1:31am

In this week’s New Statesman: The battle for Britain

Race in the media special | Cameron v Salmond | Steve Hilton: A guru's diary | Stuart Maconie on Th

By Alice Gribbin


Minority Report

For a special report in this week’s New Statesman, we ask: how can the British media hold forth on the subject when they remain so dominated by white journalists?

To accompany the race in the media report, the NS has compiled shocking statistics showing that ethnic minorities are still largely absent from the opinion pages, senior executive roles and staff jobs in the media. The full findings from the survey can be found here, and include:

  • 2 of the 99 named witnesses at the Leveson inquiry into the press are from ethnic minorities
  • 1 of the 100 most important media people in the Guardian‘s 2011 guide was not white
  • 0 national newspaper editors are non-white
  • 0 national newspaper political editors are non-white

Rafael Behr on the “hideously white” political lobby

Within the report, Rafael Behr questions whether journalists – and particularly the lobby (“the small group of journalists . . . with privileged access to the corridors of parliament”) – can report fairly on the politics of race when they are “almost exclusively white, fortysomething men”.

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Newspapers were very keen to report the decline of racism following the sentencing on 4 January of two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, yet, Behr argues:

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There was something mildly ridiculous about a bunch of white men sitting in all-white newsrooms, asking white journalists on their staff if they knew any black people who might want to write about how racism is no longer such an issue.

The absurdity was evident again the following day during the backlash against Diane Abbott MP’s “divide & rule” tweet:

. . . you could taste the relish of white men enjoying the opportunity to feel themselves the victims, for once, of racism, as if a single casual generatlisation about the cultural and ethnic majority reset the dial of all grievance to zero: generations of prejudice v one nasty remark on the internet.

Mehdi Hasan: Black and white opinions

Drawing on the NS survey, Mehdi Hasan argues that the national newspaper comment pages do not reflect the diversity of 21st-century readers in Britain.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics in 2009 showed the non-white population of England and Wales stood at 16.7 per cent, or one in six people. Yet Hasan reports that, according to a survey conducted by the NS over an “ordinary week” (between Monday 5 December and Sunday 11 December 2011):

Three of the country’s bestselling newspapers and their Sunday stablemates – the Telegraph, the Mail, the Express – failed to publish a single column by a non-white person. That’s right, not a single one.

The liberal-left papers did better than their centre-right counterparts but not by much. Over the same seven-day period, four out of 48 columnists in the Guardian/Observer were non-white; for the Independent/Independent on Sunday, it was one out of 34 columnists.

Why does the absence of non-white faces in this part of the press matter so much? As Hasan writes:

It matters because columnists matter. The well-paid, well-connected, high-profile members of what the late Frank Johnson termed “the commentariat” influence our national debate – perhaps, some say, more than individual reporters, news editors or even newspaper editors. Columnists set political agendas, shape the public discourse, set the parameters of acceptable debate . . .

White commentators often dictate what is and isn’t racism; what is and isn’t discrimination; what are and aren’t issues of importance for ethnic-minority communities.

With the non-white British population having grown by more than a third over the past decade (reaching 9.1 million in 2009), Hasan asks:

How long can newspaper editors carry on hiring and publishing columnists who have little or no experience of these lives, backgrounds, cultures or faiths? . . .

In 2012, 64 years after the arrival of the Empire Windrush on our shores, 36 years after the passage of the third Race Relations Act, 19 years after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, the great British commentariat is, in effect, a mono-racial, monocultural closed shop.

Journalists speak out: Why isn’t our press more diverse?

Also in the report, we ask leading editors and journalists about their experience of media recruitment, newsroom culture and whether they think the British press is institutionally racist. Among the first-person accounts:

Anwar Tambe, senior producer, Sky News

“Non-white people were not expected to be working in the media [when I started]. It doesn’t happen now, but I recall that a guest once jumped into my Vauxhall Cavalier as I stopped at the gates near the entrance to Sky News. He thought I was the cabbie!

” . . . progress in recruiting professionals from ethnic minorities remains glacial. There are still more black, Asian and Polish faces working in canteens than in newsrooms. And if you want to get on screen or get up the management ladder on a mainstream channel, well, dream on.”

Peter Wilby, former editor of the New Statesman

“Black and Asian journalists easily become ghettoised, as did women, 50 years ago, when they were largely confined to writing about children or cooking.”

Richard Peppiatt, former reporter for the Daily Star

“The Daily Star’s ‘BBC PUTS MUSLIMS BEFORE YOU!’ front page teetered on incitement to racial violence, but the preference is to scrawl prejudice in less visible ink. Everyone – from reporters through to subs, back bench and editors – is tasked with few enough pen strokes to allow each to deny to himself that he is responsible for the end product.”

Cameron v Salmond: The battle for Britain

Gerry Hassan, co-author of The Strange Death of Labour in Scotland, asks whether, by seeking to break up the Union, Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party could finally save Scotland:

Behind much of this debate is the Scots’ search for a voice and polity that give them more confidence in their centre-left traditions – traditions they no longer trust the British state to protect and articulate . . . Through a reconfigured set of relations in these islands, [Alex Salmond] could drag “Britain”, or what Britain becomes, into the modern democratic age.

Steve Hilton: A guru’s diary

In a spoof diary, David Cameron’s top policy adviser @SteveHiltonGuru offers a sneak peak into his week at No 10:

Yo. Let me give you the word on what’s going down. Been running the country remotely from the MacBook Pro. The warlord fronts the operation with a zeal and precision not witnessed since the Second World War, with the possible exception of Thatcher. We’re on fire . . .

My cultivated shoeless mystique has all of Westminster grooving to my tune. My vision is run from No 10 itself. Ro and my other discipular sprites convert my genius mindflow into action lists.

For discipline, I deploy the occasional vile putdown to remind the civil servants and ministers who’s calling the shots. My desk is not far from Dave’s. A clear symbol of rank and proximity to the kinetic nucleus.

Later, he issues a memo for “PMQs prep” with a nod and a wink towards a possible Labour defector:

Am shifting Dave from prizefighter role. Mindset change: God is a DJ. Dave is a DJ. Less aggression, more control. We pick his tunes and samples (my jokes). His job is to spin a 30-min set, leaving the House wanting more yet fuzzy with satisfaction. If he does that, we might score the ultimate coup: that Labour defector we’ve had our eye on agrees to cross the floor.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

Stuart Maconie on Greil Marcus’s new book on The Doors, Alice Gribbin talks to Royal Society award-winning scientist Julie Makani, Laurie Penny remembers a different Margaret Thatcher and Alec MacGillis offers a profile of the 76-year-old obstetrician with his sights on the White House, Ron Paul.

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