In 2011, the New Statesman ran a special report on race in the media. Its conclusions were shocking, if not surprising. In a country where 16 per cent of the population define themselves as black, Asian or mixed-race, there were no non-white national newspaper editors, few columnists and staff writers, and political reporting was dominated by a monochrome majority.
Since then, there has been some positive progress, such as the appointment of Amol Rajan as editor of the Independent. But the media is still dominated by white faces and voices, and this inevitably affects how stories are covered and presented. As Peter Wilby wrote in our special report:
Editors rarely advertise jobs or even set out systematically what skills they require from recruits. They rely on proxy indicators: a first degree from Oxbridge, a postgraduate journalism certificate (after completing courses for which there is only limited financial support), a willingness to spend months on unpaid “work experience”, backed by a recommendation from somebody the editor once worked with or met at a dinner party (“Bright boy/girl, just give him/her a try, would you?”).
The tiny number of black and Asian people who somehow squeeze past these exacting requirements – which also exclude just about anybody who doesn’t have connections in the metropolitan professional classes – will find that they become instant experts on “race relations”. A riot in Tottenham? Send the black reporter. Islamist stirrings in Birmingham? Send the Asian. Somebody to cover Royal Ascot? Send . . . oh, perhaps not.
Some deny there is a problem, insisting that they merely hire the best candidates for the job. But this system is inevitably skewed, as Gary Younge explained in 1999:
Most of those who run, and recruit to, British newspapers . . . claim they are colour-blind. But blindness is a disability. If you cannot see race you won’t see racism; nor will you notice that the overwhelming majority of your staff is white.
This background has led to our collaboration with Writers of Colour, an initiative to uncover and promote a more diverse range of voices in the British media, and to expand the cultural subjects which are deemed interesting and relevant. Over the next week, we will be hosting both alumni of the Writers of Colour project and journalists commissioned directly by us in a series of essays on race and media. We are taking media in its broadest sense – film, TV and the press – as well as trying to approach race in a more nuanced way than a simple “black/white” divide.
First up is Samantha Asumadu, the founder of Media Diversity UK and the operator of the @WritersofColour account, who writes about her campaign on All White Front Pages. If you want to tweet us about the week, please use the hashtag #NSrace
Tuesday: Elizabeth Pears on colourism
Wednesday: Yacine Assoudani on EastEnders