When it comes to racism in the media, either many sections of it are being extremely disingenuous. Or they’re being deliberately provocative.
The biggest problem when talking about this subject is where we always begin. Our starting point isn’t: ‘How do we solve this problem of how we unfairly represent black people?’ It’s: ‘Is there a problem with how we represent and write about black people.’
It’s impossible to fix a problem, unless you acknowledge it even exists. The whole debate is framed wrongly, so a solution is unlikely, because the elite media always start from the wrong point.
Footballer Raheem Sterling and Singer Jamelia and many other black people are reported on differently to white people. Fact. The starting point is, is there a will to change that and if so, how?
Jamelia wrote a very personal, honest and informative article on her own website, highlighting this with her own personal experience. This week, multiple articles were written about a man who had been jailed for murder. He also happened to be the son of her mother’s partner 30 years ago. Here’s the problem: She hasn’t seen this man since she was two, yet he was framed as her stepbrother. The 37-year-old is, rightly, angry because her name was used in the headline linking her to the man – she feels with the sole objective of getting the the news article’s attention and slurring her name.
In an interview with Channel 4 News, Jamelia was emotional and upset as she explained her frustration: ‘If it wasn’t for the media, I wouldn’t have to work as hard as I do. I wouldn’t have to undo all the stuff I have to undo.’ For anyone still unclear about what her exact problem was she went onto to explain further: ‘It’s not about the story or even the crime. It’s the reporting of the story. I am being linked to crime. I have to state my case and fight for things I shouldn’t have to fight for particularly when my white counterparts do not get this type of abuse.’
This faux shock from many white people to Jamelia’s article is also infuriating. Editors, commissioners and broadcasters only have to take a glance across their newsrooms and studios to see the lack of diversity. If everyone in the room looks the same, then why would you expect a difference in mentality? If all the decision makers have come from similar backgrounds, then why would you expect the output and reporting of the news to be representative of the people they’re talking about.
This comes just a week after Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling posted an article of his own on his Instagram page showing the example of two of his Manchester City teammates, one black, one white, both having purchased a house. The language used to describe the black player used words like ‘Splashes’ and refers to the fact he hasn’t played a Premier League game yet – inferring he’s reckless and not worthy. Whereas the headline for the white player used words like ‘starlet’. These words may not seem like a big deal, but when constantly used about a particular group of people, they leave an imprint on the sub-consciousness of the readers and viewers’ mind, that enables a perception about these groups of people.
The biggest lesson to learn from what Jamelia and Raheem are saying is that words and stories commissioned, matter. And this narrow-minded journalism has to be called out for what it is: racist.
So, what’s the answer. Well, there’s two things to be done. Call out this blatant discrimination and call it what it is. Make the newspapers and newsrooms accountable for what they print and publish.
Sterling has realised his power and is now exercising it and I encourage other influential black people to do the same.
The other answer is the more important one. More diverse editors, journalists, reporters, sub editors, and commissioners. If you want a better understanding about what viewers and readers find interesting and how they want their news reported, have a team in place that looks like the people you’re writing to. If the news outlets had had a broader spectrum of journalists, that Jamelia story wouldn’t have been published, or at least not with her name on it.
Jamelia spoke about how distressing this whole saga has been for her with. But this is bigger than one person. This is about fair and better journalism. Most editors are white and male. Most editors and commissioners I’ve spoken to this week say they’re disgusted and want change. Well, stop the talk, set up a 12-month strategy to make sure this time next year your newsroom is more representative of the public.
Or just be honest and say you really don’t care and are happy with how things are. It’s really not hard.