OPINION
09/03/2021 18:32 GMT

Of Course There's Bigotry In The Media. We Need Allies, Not Silence, To End It

The media industry is toxic for far too many people from under-represented groups. Leaders like the Society of Editors have to get a grasp of the issue now, writes journalist Marcus Ryder.

I am about to risk my career as a journalist. Is everybody watching? Then let me begin. 

The list of names below contains some of the most powerful and well connected people in the UK media industry. People who can literally make or break careers. They are also members of the board who oversee the Society of Editors.

  • Alison Gow - president, Society of Editors and audience and content editor for the North West, Reach plc
  • Ian MacGregor - chair, Society of Editors and emeritus editor, Telegraph Media Group
  • Ian Murray - executive director, Society of Editors
  • Kamal Ahmed - editorial director, BBC News
  • Alex Bannister - group managing editor, Daily Mail
  • Martin Breen - deputy editor-in-chief of Independent News and Media, and editor of Sunday Life
  • Peter Clifton - editor-in-chief, PA Media
  • Polly Curtis - managing director, PA Media
  • Oliver Duff - editor-in-chief, i
  • Charles Garside - assistant editor, Daily Mail
  • Jonathan Grun - honorary treasurer of the Society
  • Ceri Gould - editorial revenue director, Reach plc
  • Donald Martin - editor-in-chief, Newsquest Scotland
  • Eleanor Mills - founder and CEO, InHerSpace.co.uk and chair, Women in Journalism
  • Vic Motune - head of news, The Voice
  • Sue Ryan - media consultant and director of Associated Newspapers’ trainee programme
  • Moira Sleight - editor and publisher, Methodist Recorder
  • Sarah Whitehead - deputy head of newsgathering, Sky News
  • Doug Wills - group managing editor, London Evening Standard and The Independent
  • Joy Yates - editorial director, JPIMedia North East

Before Monday I’m sure the vast majority of the public had never heard of the society. They are a professional trade organisation who according to their website is “open to people who work in or with any part of the news media in senior editorial or policy making roles”. In practice they act to protect the interests of UK media news organisations, and at times effectively lobby on its behalf. 

The society made headlines following the interview of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry by Oprah Winfrey, when they seemed to interpret the industry’s best interests as defending it from the criticism levelled against by the Sussexes by issuing a statement saying: “The UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account following the attack on the press by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.”

Cue much consternation on social media, radio phone-ins and news programmes with people discussing whether the UK media is bigoted or not. 

Defenders of the Society of Editors took a very simplistic approach to racism and bigotry interpreting it as a simple binary: either a person or an industry is racist, or it is not racist. If you can point to non-racist behaviour, or acts of generosity towards people of colour, you cannot be racist. This at least seemed to be the argument deployed by the society’s director Ian Murray when he was interviewed by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire.

The detractors who disagreed with the society such as Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the Director of the Reuters Institute, cited academic papers and numerous evidence revealing racist behaviour, practices and outcomes from the media industry. In a piece by the Press Gazette looking at social media reaction to the society’s statement, they found the vast majority of comments disagreed with the society. 

Interestingly, there is one group of people who have remained silent throughout the whole affair: the people who have stayed silent are the very board members I listed at the start.

Those of us working in the industry are fully cognisant of what we jeopardise when we go against such a powerful industry body.  And it is even more foolhardy to do what I have done, which is to name them (although it was through no great feat of investigative journalism to find their names – I simply went on the society’s website).

I have listed them because the industry needs them to step up, defend, support and help journalists who are the victims of the very bigotry the society is denying. The industry needs transparency and true allyship. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is clear that it is not enough to be simply non-racist, but anti-racist.

Allyship and support are not abstract concepts. Powerful individuals have the opportunity to acknowledge the fact that the industry is toxic for far too many people from under-represented groups and need to grasp it now. 

We need people at the top of the industry to acknowledge that women of colour are the most likely to report that their ability to speak out about working practices or the working environment in the media industry has negatively affected their wellbeing.

We need our industry leaders to support the 69% of Black, African, Caribbean or Black British men working in the industry who say they have been bullied.

We need our bosses who shape the culture of the UK’s media to address the fact that more than a third of disabled people working in the media do not feel valued at work, compared to just one in five non-disabled workers.

And we need people in senior roles to be as shocked as the rest of us that 22% of LGBT+ workers have attempted to end their lives.

And so I have a modest proposal. Dear board members of the Society of Editors: there is no need to disavow the previous statement. But here is a new one you could support now:

“As a senior member of the news media industry I acknowledge that bigotry, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice exist in the sector that I know and love. I will actively root it out and support others who are fighting against it as well. Together we can create a better industry.”

Marcus Ryder is a visiting professor in media diversity at Birmingham City University, and co-author of Access All Areas - The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond. Follow him on Twitter at @marcusryder