The Society of Editors has postponed its National and Regional Press Awards after having a host and several nominees pull out in protest against its response to Prince Harry’s accusation that the UK press is “bigoted”.
The Society said in a statement on Friday afternoon: “The Society of Editors has decided to postpone the National and Regional Press Awards until later this year. New dates will be announced in due course.
“In the meantime the Society will continue its work in championing freedom of expression and supporting diversity in newsrooms, and will also plan for this year’s annual conference.”
The national awards, for which a shortlist had already been published, had been due to be held virtually on 31 March but host ITV journalist Charlene White pulled out saying she only works with organisations “who practise what they preach”.
The regional awards were due to be held in late May. The Society’s executive director Ian Murray, who resigned after taking the blame for its response to Harry and Meghan’s allegations, was chairman of the judges for both events.
Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner said the postponement came “to absolutely no one’s surprise”, adding that they need to “sort out the mess caused by the tone deaf (and unrepresentative) response to the Meghan and Harry interview”.
Original story, published 11 March 2021:
The Daily Mirror has pulled out of the running for two National Press Awards over journalism trade body the Society of Editors’ response to Prince Harry’s accusation that the UK press is “bigoted”.
Daily Mirror editor Alison Phillips said her paper “no longer feels able to participate” in the Driving Diversity category due to the Society’s response to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah.
Three Mirror journalists have also pulled out of the Reporting Diversity category.
Phillips said: “The Mirror is taking positive steps forward on improving diversity in our newsroom but we still have much more to do. We will be talking to the Society about what actions it will be taking to improve diversity across the industry.”
The annual National Press Awards are organised by the Society, which said on Monday: “The UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account…”
Vic Motune, news editor of black newspaper The Voice and a Society of Editors board member, called for a full retraction.
The Society’s board did publish a clarification on Wednesday, saying: “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.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which withdrew its nominations from the awards in protest, will not ask for them to be reinstated despite the resignation of the Society’s executive director Ian Murray (pictured).
Driving Diversity was a new category for this year’s awards, due to be held virtually on 31 March, which the Society said was intended to “reflect the growing ambitions of the industry to tackle this challenge”.
Also shortlisted are Bloomberg, the Daily Mail, the Financial Times, The Athletic, The Guardian, The Sun and Open Democracy.
Open Democracy, which is also nominated in the Investigation of the Year category, said it did not plan to withdraw its entries “though we respect the decisions of other outlets which have done so” because it wants to “enter, be present in and disrupt spaces of exclusion in the media” to help drive change.
Mirror columnist Eva Simpson and features editor Nick Webster were shortlisted in the Reporting Diversity category for their Black Britain work, while assistant editor Darren Lewis was separately nominated.
Lewis said the Society’s statement this week “undermines [the] validity” of the category, adding: “Few, if any, media outlets are beyond scrutiny when it comes to representation in decision-making positions…
“The Mirror has accepted it needs to do more and I am pleased to be part of placing our own house in order.”
The Mirror is nominated in 18 other categories including news website, daily and Sunday paper of the year.
Huffpost North of England correspondent Aasma Day withdrew from the category on Wednesday, saying: “What’s the point of having a Reporting Diversity award when this statement shows the society representing the industry I work in is burying its head and refusing to admit these issues even exist?”
Day told Press Gazette on Thursday that Murray’s resignation “has not really changed anything” for her as the initial statement was put out in the Society’s name, even though it appeared to have been done without the knowledge or support of all of its board members.
“It highlighted how much work there is still to be done in tackling diversity and admitting there is a racism problem within the media – just as there is in all walks of society,” she said.
“It is meaningless to invite non-white journalists to host the awards or have categories such as Reporting Diversity and Driving Diversity if this isn’t backed up with a recognition of the problems that pervade our industry and a commitment to help change that.
“Actions speak louder than words or token gestures and I sincerely hope the Society of Editors will now strive to address the issues of diversity and help bring about the changes so desperately needed in the media so it reflects the lives and experiences of the society we live in.”
Society of Editors president Alison Gow said on Wednesday night the organisation “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.”
Special board meeting about how to ‘rebuild trust’
The Voice’s Motune said he and other Society board members were not consulted about the Society’s statement on Monday, which he said he “would not have accepted or supported”.
He said the board is holding a special meeting on Thursday.
“The comments do not represent what I know – the UK media fails to accurately reflect the lives and aspirations of all BAME persons in Britain,” Motune wrote.
Motune added: “My big fear now is that the initiatives to address diversity which the board has been working on for the past year, and which I joined the Society of Editors to support, have been dealt a serious blow.
“These initiatives involved plans to reach out to BAME journalists to help drive forward efforts to tackle racism in the media.”
Some 250 journalists of colour have signed an open letter decrying the Society’s “refusal to accept there is any bigotry in the British press” as “laughable”, adding that it “does a disservice to journalists of colour and shows an institution and an industry in denial”.
A further letter has since been signed by more than 150 journalists of colour urging a full retraction of the Society’s initial statement.
The letter said: “While Ian Murray’s resignation reflects the deep anger that the society’s statement and his interviews have caused, this has never been about one man.
“We now look forward to the Society of Editors withdrawing its denial of the racism which exists in our industry and explaining more fully what action it will take to address it, starting with its own awards scheme, which has consistently failed to recognise the talent and achievements of journalists of colour.”
Motune said the Society must now “urgently rebuild trust with this group”.
He said the emergency board meeting would address “actioning the planned initiatives, rebuilding the trust of BAME members and driving the much needed change in the industry”.
Rachel Oldroyd, managing editor and chief executive of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, told Press Gazette her organisation will not rejoin the Press Awards shortlist despite Murray’s resignation.
It was nominated in the Innovation of the Year category for its impact and community organising team while its journalist Alexandra Heal was nominated for the Young Journalist of the Year.
Concerns ‘greater than one person’
“Our concerns about how the SoE dealt with accusations of bigotry and racism in our industry are much greater than comments made by one person,” Oldroyd said.
“The fact that such a blinkered statement was issued by the organisation and went unchecked for 24 hours is deeply concerning.”
She said the media industry has been calling for other sectors to tackle outdated attitudes around race and needs to do the same.
“To suggest there is not a problem and to allow that position to be held over a period of time and argued fervently on national television was in my view deeply damaging for our industry,” Oldroyd said, referring to Murray’s interview with Victoria Derbyshire in which he doubled down on his statement that the UK press is not racist.
Quite the exchange between Victoria Derbyshire and the head of the Society of Editors this morning pic.twitter.com/2DMxvqwZX1
— Tom Hourigan (@TomHourigan) March 9, 2021
“It was very sad that the damage was done by an organisation whose mission is to represent our industry. The position taken by the society did not reflect my feeling or experience of an industry I have worked in for 25 years. This was also felt very deeply by those at the Bureau nominated for the Society’s awards.
“We recognise that Ian Murray has paid a high price and his resignation was no doubt a difficult step. But this is not about an individual. As an industry we have to start to really understand the problem head on and we do not feel the clarification put out by the Society goes anywhere near to addressing the core of the problem.”
Amid the fallout ITV anchor Charlene White quit as host of the National Press Awards, set to be held virtually on 31 March, saying she only works with organisations “who practise what they preach”.
Regional press boycott
Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson said his newspaper would not enter the Regional Press Awards, for which entries are due to close on Friday 12 March, as he was “troubled at the prospect of accepting adulation from an organisation that cannot see the prejudice before them, even when it screams in sans serif caps lock, 200pt”.
“As a forty-something white man, I feel woefully short of credentials to bring to this fight, but I will be damned if the colour of my skin and my perceived social status is going to prevent me from listening, learning, bettering myself and my workplace,” he said.
The Bristol Cable has also announced it will boycott the Regional Press Awards and withdraw its entries as the claim ““the press is most certainly not racist” is “not one we can support because it would not be supported by any fair-minded analysis of powerful and influential parts of the British press”.
“Though the spark for the SoE statement and subsequent backlash was Markle’s interview, the reality is that implicit and explicit racism has long been present in parts of the British media, often cynically used to attract clicks and sales. Despite being regularly called out by campaigners and others, in most cases those bearing the brunt have been ordinary members of the public, who simply have not had the platform that the Duchess had to expose it.
“The failure by industry leaders to address this has real world consequences.”
Picture: Society of Editors