The head of an industry body for the UK press has resigned following a backlash after claiming the UK media is “not racist”.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors (SoE), said he would step down from his role so the organisation can “rebuild its reputation” after publishing a widely ridiculed claim that the UK media is “not bigoted”.
In a statement published on Monday that sparked a backlash against the organisation, he wrote: “The UK media has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity or influence.
“If sometimes the questions asked are awkward and embarrassing, then so be it, but the press is most certainly not racist.”
His assertion, which he went on to defend in a heated interview with Victoria Derbyshire on Tuesday, was fiercely criticised – not least by members of the SoE’s own board, who said they were “deeply angry” about the way they had been represented.
The SoE represents almost 400 members in senior positions across the UK media, several of whom have now publicly declared their opposition to Murray’s statement.
Award-winning journalist and Loose Women panellist Charlene White announced she has pulled out of hosting the Society of Editors’ National Press Awards.
In a statement sent to Murray, seen by HuffPost UK, White cited the much-criticised statement, released on Monday in the wake of Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“Perhaps it’s best for you to look elsewhere for a host for your awards this year,” she said.
“Perhaps someone whose views align with yours: that the UK press is the one institution in the entire country who has a perfect record on race.”
On Tuesday, 167 journalists of colour across the British media industry signed an open letter to say they “deplore and reject” the SoE’s statement.
“While Meghan’s comments shone a light on her own personal experiences of discriminatory treatment, they reflect the depressingly familiar reality of how people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are portrayed by the UK press on a daily basis,” the letter reads.
“The Society of Editors’ claim that the Sussexes’ views were made without “supporting evidence” shows a wilful ignorance of not just the discriminatory treatment of Meghan — some of which was highlighted during the interview — but that of other people from an ethnic minority background.”
On Wednesday night, Murray said he would step down from his role. “Since the statement was issued the SoE has been heavily criticised,” he said.
“While I do not agree that the Society’s statement was in any way intended to defend racism, I accept it could have been much clearer in its condemnation of bigotry and has clearly caused upset.
“As executive director I lead the Society and as such must take the blame and so I have decided it is best for the board and membership that I step aside so that the organisation can start to rebuild its reputation.”
He added that the original statement was “not intended to gloss over the fact the media industry in the UK does have work to do on inclusivity and diversity”.
The SoE has since added a clarification to its original statement, rowing back only slightly on Murray’s claim that the UK press is “not bigoted”.
The addition reads: “The Society of Editors has a proud history of campaigning for freedom of speech and the vital work that journalists do in a democracy to hold power to account.
“Our statement on Meghan and Harry was made in that spirit but did not reflect what we all know: that there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion.
“We will reflect on the reaction our statement prompted and work towards being part of the solution.”
Alison Gow, president of the Society of Editors, said: “I would like to thank Ian for his tireless work on behalf of the Society; he has led campaigns for journalists’ rights and freedoms and worked hard behind the scenes when it appeared legislation might threaten those.
“The society is committed to representing all journalists and upholding Journalism; I am clear on what our mission must be, and we will strive as an organisation to listen and hear everyone’s views, and be strong advocates and allies for all those we represent.”