Half of journalists responding to a Press Gazette reader survey said they thought media coverage of Meghan Markle has been racist.
Of the 721 respondents who identified as journalists, 361 (50%) said they have seen coverage of Markle that they thought was “racist in tone or presentation”. Some 278 (39%) said did not think coverage they had seen was racist, while 82 respondents (11%) said they did not know whether coverage had been racist.
The survey was sent to all 10,000 Press Gazette email newsletter subscribers on 22 March. By the end of that week, some 1,002 readers had completed anonymous responses.
Among black journalists who responded to the survey, 87% said they had seen coverage of the Duchess of Sussex which the thought was racist.
More than half of journalist respondents – 402 out of 721 (56%) – said that media coverage of the Duchess of Sussex has not been fair. A third (240 respondents, or 33%) said the coverage had been fair, while 79 (11%) said they weren’t sure.
Among black journalists who responded to the survey, 83% said they felt Markle coverage has not been fair.
‘The press needs to ask itself why it is treating her differently from Kate Middleton’
As part of the survey, respondents were asked to explain why they felt coverage had been fair or unfair.
Numerous participants in the survey suggested that Markle has been treated differently to Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Several pointed towards a Buzzfeed article that sought to demonstrate inconsistent tabloid coverage between the two royals.
One respondent, a broadcast journalist of black Caribbean ethnicity, said: “The Duchess of Sussex is far more scrutinised than the Duchess of Cambridge. She is constantly criticised and made to be the villain. The tabloids hardly ever praise her for her work, but rather pick on her relentlessly for no reason, hence it could only be because of her mixed race.”
A regional/ local journalist of black Caribbean ethnicity said: “There are many incidents when there have been double standards in coverage, i.e. the Duchess of Cambridge previously did something which Meghan has repeated and been ridiculed for it by the press.
“She has been unfairly targeted and her ethnicity has been at the centre of many articles, whereas with other royals their race doesn’t come into question.”
A white British consumer magazine journalist said: “I don’t have much time for her, and I think much of what she has claimed has been overblown – and at times there’s been an element of self-fulfilling prophecy. But there are very clear examples of a differing approach to her than, say, Kate Middleton. She may well have earned some of that, but that doesn’t make it fair.”
A national newspaper reporter/ sub-editor who identified ethnically as Pakistani said: “She has been held to different standards because of her race, because she is perceived as an outsider and is not the meek, demure woman that the right-wing press wishes to see join the royal family. References to her skin colour/appearance were very prevalent in coverage when she first started dating Harry, both by columnists and in news stories, and the ‘Compton’ and gangster references were clearly racist.
“The press needs to ask itself why it is treating her differently from Kate Middleton. Unspecific and or unsubstantiated allegations about her being unlikable or controlling of Harry do not cut the mustard.”
Dozens condemn ‘(almost) straight outta Compton’ headline
As part of the survey, participants were asked to share examples of media coverage that they felt was racist.
Some 39 respondents specifically pointed towards a 2016 Mail Online headline that reported how “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”.
A black broadcast journalist said: “She’s been treated differently, overtly and covertly. Whether in comparison with Kate Middleton or outrageous racial slurs about her coming from ‘Compton’ and what that implies. It’s wrong.”
A black journalist who works in academia/ education said: “Coverage of Meghan Markle has been absolutely unfair. Starting with the headlines claiming she was almost ‘out of Compton’, which conjured up the image of someone low-income, uneducated and thuggish, which of course does not at all describe Meghan.”
One respondent, a senior (manager/ editor level) consumer magazine journalist of black Caribbean ethnicity, said: “I feel the editors don’t like her because she’s not ‘in her place’. As a black person in England, I know what it’s like to get on the wrong side of Middle England. It’s brutal and draining.
“If they left her alone people would forget she existed. But they can’t. They have to win, meaning the press gets dragged down with their petty egos.”
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A regional/ local news reporter of black Caribbean ethnicity said: “Prior to, during her tenure and thereafter following her decision to leave the UK, the British media – including TV and radio – has been vile and vicious in their output and treatment of any published story on her.
“Even this survey is meaningless, since the Press Gazette itself has frequently dismissed any criticism of the profession and its questionable practices over the decades – regardless of topic.”
A broadcast reporter, who identified as Indian, said: “There are two problems – the racist subtext in the reporting, which has been widely commented upon. But also the mutually beneficial relationship between the forelock-tugging pro-monarchy state media (including the BBC) and the royal family and its PR operation itself. It’s not remotely surprising that racist attitudes amongst the Windsors should be reflected in the press.”
A manager/editor in the B2B press, who is white, said: “Once someone’s face sells pages or boosts clickbait, there seems to be a haste to run as many stories on that person as possible with a lack of caution about the balance and accuracy of stories. This seems to have happened to Meghan Markle – too many stories run incessantly that cast her as a troublemaker etc when it’s almost impossible to know or discover the full factual situation. I think our idea of ‘fair game’ may have been taken too far and is damaging the media’s own reputation.”
Taxpayer-funded… ‘and she has to be held accountable‘
Analysis of the survey results shows that journalists working for tabloid newspapers – which have been the main target of criticism from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – were the least likely to think Markle has been treated unfairly.
Six in ten (61%) think media coverage has been fair, compared with 32% who think it has not. And 30% said they had seen racism in the coverage, compared with 60% who said they had not.
A national tabloid journalist, who identified as white British, said: “It is odd to call into question the morality of the media while Meghan & co’s moralities are so lacking. To be interviewed by Oprah, not a journalist but an entertainer, was a sign this drama has likely been manufactured to build the brand of Meghan (and Harry).
“Many of the claims Meghan and Harry made have been shown to be contradictory or false (see Daily Mail dossier piece for a start).
“Meghan knew what she was getting into. She was a C-list celeb who knew how to court the tabloids for a chance to be featured. But unlike the American showbiz press, when she changed position from C-list celeb to public figure and royal role model, her accountability changed.
“Taxpayers were now funding her, and she had to be held accountable. The couple’s continued inability to understand that British people will not pay for their personal security if the couple are not actively serving the British people demonstrates either a severe lack of understanding of the situation or (less likely) a want to mock everyday British people who work to make a living.
“Suing for privacy then releasing private conversations, smearing certain tabloids but releasing baby bump pictures to them – it all stinks of hypocrisy, arrogance, or simply stupidity.
“I thought Meghan would bring the royal family into the 21st century. Instead, she has perpetuated the stereotype of royals as vaguely dim and arrogant narcissists ignorant of the fact they are in-part funded by the British taxpayer. Meghan was someone who would happily consider dating a footballer to increase her profile. Now she’s come in, increased her profile, left and is financially secured for life, as are countless future generations of her family.
“In the end, this is not a game, as Meghan seems to think it is. This is everyday people’s money, and she has to be held accountable. Race is not an excuse for bad behaviour.
“And most of all we must remember while American attitudes to racism is to show how different each race is and celebrate that, in Britain, it is to be colour-blind and show how although we may look different we are all human beings.
“So-called wokeness originated in America and is largely unable to penetrate the structures of British society because it is an alien conception.”
Another tabloid journalist of mixed race said: “The media welcomed her with open arms and was almost gushing about the new member of the royal family.
“She was showered with praise and her mixed-race heritage as lauded and seen as a blessing and a way of showing how the royal family and the UK had embraced diversity and was a forward-looking institution and nation.
“But it all turned sour when she realised it was not possible to control how the institution worked or to manipulate a free-thinking press.”
A Jewish local press reporter who described their seniority as reporter/sub-editor level said: “She demands peace and quiet, then puts herself front and centre of everything. The coverage has nothing to do with race, it’s about her being a petulant child.”
A local newspaper reporter of white British ethnicity said: “The British media celebrated her and Prince Harry as a couple. Yes, there were references to her being of mixed race … that’s a fact and was relevant in the context of her marrying into the British royal family. It was never portrayed as a negative.
“The criticism of the couple began when they began their ‘woke campaign’ telling us how to live our lives while doing the complete opposite. That is hypocrisy and deserved in their vernacular to be ‘called out’.
“Since the Winfrey interview, the press have not gone far enough in ‘calling them out’ in their lies and misinformation. The interview was biased, unsubstantiated and poor journalism and deserves to be held to account.”
Who filled out the survey?
While the poll sample was self-selecting, with readers choosing whether to take part, it still contained a large cross-section of responses from across the industry and beyond.
Respondents were anonymous but confined to verified Press Gazette email subscribers – with each subscriber only allowed to fill out the survey once.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Toby Melville