Fifty black, Asian and minority ethnic journalists have accused UK newsrooms of repeatedly failing to improve diversity in the industry.
Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (pictured, left) told Press Gazette that “brilliant” young journalists are being missed because of nepotism, laziness and ignorance from the people “making judgements about who should be there”.
Alongside Alibhai-Brown, Times columnist Sathnam Sanghera (pictured, right), Mirror football writer Darren Lewis, Sky News correspondent Ashish Joshi and former BBC sports editor Mihir Bose were among the journalists to sign a letter urging the Society of Editors to accelerate action on the issue.
The journalists said they were raising the issue now because of the recent debate around equality and diversity sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the US last month.
Their letter said: “For those of us of a certain age, we started off as one of the few, if not the only minority journalists and it saddens us to say that over the years, this has not significantly changed.
“A diverse editorial team helps reflect a wider cross section of opinion and cover stories that are not just race-related in an expansive and balanced way, giving the views of BAME communities on a range of matters that have traditionally not been aired; from Brexit to education to the state of the economy, we too are affected by the same issues that impact our fellow Britons.
“There is more to our communities than just ‘race matters’ and we believe that by having a greater cross section of journalists from across the UK’s diverse communities will only help to enrich coverage, provide more eclectic views and deliver more insight into those that make up the Britain of today.”
Alibhai-Brown, who became the first regular columnist of colour on a UK national newspaper 20 years ago, told Press Gazette diversity in journalism was now “a little bit better” but was still “piddling”.
Explaining why this is a problem she said: “White men and women who are heading up this industry, it isn’t that you have to be kind to us – it’s that you’re not speaking to and for the nation as it is.
“It’s your failure that you should be worrying about. Everybody wants readers because frankly we are in trouble and how can you not do anything to get more readers?”
‘Colour blind’ approach not working
Alibhai-Brown said sustainable change was needed, which means editors must let BAME people take risks and give them a chance to make mistakes.
“All my professional success has come because there were white men who saw something in me every step of the way, and I feel that’s what we need – because there were these men who saw the potential, who saw that I was bringing them stories that weren’t being told.”
The 50 journalists, who also come from the likes of the Sunday Times, Guardian, Mail titles, The Voice and Eastern Eye, called on editors to implement positive recruitment campaigns and properly paid traineeships, and ensure equal promotion and pay for BAME staff already in newsrooms.
They said the often-used “colour blind” approach to recruitment was not working because it “ignores the challenges that many BAME kids face”.
“By not recognising, engaging and nurturing talent that lies in these communities, not only are responsible news organisations failing, but they are also missing a few tricks in making our news organisations more effective and attractive,” they said.
“We urge greater scope on recruitment while keeping in line with the principles of talent and merit. One cannot see them if one is not looking for them.”
They also backed the idea of having audits of BAME representation in news organisations with their results published publicly, followed by regular diversity reviews.
Database of best practice
The Society of Editors should “urge its members to use this period of reflection to re-evaluate and reform past practices and move forward with a totally skilled workforce with appropriate BAME representation,” they said.
In response, the Society of Editors agreed the need to create a more diverse news sector has “never been more imperative” and said that although various initiatives have been in place for some time to recruit BAME journalists “there is much more to be done”.
The Daily Mail runs a scholarship for BAME journalists named after Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager who was stabbed to death in a racially-motivated attack in 1993.
The Sun launched its own trainee scheme for aspiring journalists “from all walks of life” after then-editor Tony Gallagher called for increased diversity in newsrooms to reflect the UK population.
The Society said success stories in the industry should be shared as examples of best practice and built on by others. It is therefore launching a campaign to collate information on initiatives that have proven results to share throughout the sector.
Executive director Ian Murray said: “There is no doubt that more should be done to achieve the media industry’s ambition of ensuring newsrooms fully reflect the communities they serve both at a local and national level.
“A lot is already being done, but the speed of change is not rapid enough. To that end the Society hopes that by creating a database of best practice and enabling news bodies to more easily be connected with organisations and individuals willing to help, this vital change can be accelerated.
“The aim of us all must be to create newsrooms that represent our society as a whole.”
The full list of journalists who signed the letter:
- Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
- Nihal Arthanayake
- Inderdeep Bains
- Courtney Bartlett
- Alice Bhandhukravi
- Shekhar Bhatia
- Henry Bonsu
- Mihir Bose
- Harcharan Chandhoke
- Shamim Chowdhury
- Dippy Chaudhary
- Vivek Chaudhary
- Shanti Das
- Nirpal Dhaliwal
- Vikram Dodd
- John Ferguson
- Bobby Friction
- Anjana Gosai
- Akua Gyamfi
- Dipesh Gadher
- Raj Ghai
- Herpreet Grewal
- Joseph Harker
- Rodney Hinds
- Sunny Hundal
- Ashish Joshi
- Darren Lewis
- Tony Litt
- Mita Mistry
- Sami Mokbel
- Priya Mulji
- Sangita Myska
- Humphrey Namar
- Ashanti Omkar
- Neetal Parekh
- Sabyia Parker
- Sabi Phagura
- Sami Quadri
- Sailesh Ram
- Inzamam Rashid
- Sathnam Sanghera
- Kim Sengupta
- Dhillon Shukla
- Rowan Shukla
- Amar Singh
- Rob Singh
- Shailesh Solanki
- Abul Taher
- CB Patel
- Shyama Perera
Pictures: Channel 5/BBC