Media old boys' network hinders non-whites, says report

By Zoe Smith

Cleaning and catering are the only areas where there is a ‘significant proportion’ of ethnic minority workers in London’s newspaper newsrooms, according to a report commissioned by the Commission for Racial Equality.

The survey, based on interviews with current and former journalists and editors, revealed that racial discrimination exists and a perceived ‘old boys network’ approach to recruitment were barriers to equal participation in the industry in London.

Trevor Phillips, chair of the CRE said: "The upper reaches of newspapers aren’t stuffed with racists, but the media is old-fashioned when it comes to promotion and progression. Things are done informally and often opaquely, which doesn’t help those who aren’t on the editor’s radar in the first place."

The report states that according to the 2004 Labour Force Survey’s data, newspaper, journal and periodical publishing staff in London are 100 per cent white. The proportion of ethnic minority staff is too tiny to register.

One Caribbean journalist surveyed said: "You occasionally see the odd black face working as a sub, or mainly in the kitchen to be honest."

But many of the editors who spoke to Press Gazette felt that ethnic minorities weren’t particularly interested in working in newspapers.

Robin Esser, managing editor at the Daily Mail, said: "Up to quite recently the trade of journalism has not been very popular among Asian people. They have tended to believe that their sons and daughters should go into professions such as medicine and chemistry.

The influx of ethnic minorities at the base roots has not been very great."

Joseph Harker, The Guardian’s comment assistant editor and diversity coordinator, said: "While we need to encourage people to apply more than they are at the moment, I saw in the report one editor said that journalism isn’t regarded as a serious career among some cultures. That is absolute tosh."

Another issue the report highlighted was the tendency for ethnic minority journalists to be pigeonholed into particular types of stories — for example, on gun crime or ‘black youth culture’.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: "You have to talk to your reporters because sometimes people from black or Asian backgrounds are particularly interested in writing about those communities and issues.

"There is a danger of ghettoising reporters, typecasting them and imagining that they only want to write about those issues. What’s true for one reporter won’t necessarily be true for another."

News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner dismissed the idea that an old boys’ network operated in his newsroom, saying that the paper went to "inordinate lengths" to attract skilful people regardless of race, colour or creed.

"Quite apart from an editorial floor reflecting a vast spectrum of backgrounds, it would have to be a pretty odd old boys’ network to produce NoW editors such as Wendy Henry, Patsy Chapman and Rebekah Wade," he added.

The Observer’s editor, Roger Alton, said his newspaper implemented initiatives to encourage ethnic minority applicants. "It’s a vicious circle, but once you come out of it, it becomes a virtuous circle," he said.

"The more people of an ethnic background you have working in the media, the more people of an ethnic background will want to work in the media."

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