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Journalists of colour have come out against the Society of Editors (SoE) after it claimed that the UK media is “not bigoted”, in the wake of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Among a number of explosive revelations made in the interview, Harry said the couple had left the UK in “large part” due to racism and the treatment by a “bigoted” press.
He told Winfrey the media created a “toxic environment” of “control and fear”. “The UK is not bigoted, the UK press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids,” he added. “But unfortunately if the source of information is inherently corrupt or racist or biased, then that filters out to the rest of society.”
In response, the Society of Editors (SoE) – which represents almost 400 members in senior journalism positions at national and regional titles across the UK– published an article with the headline: UK media not bigoted: SoE responds to Sussexes’ claims of racism”.
“It is not acceptable for the Duke and Duchess to make such claims without providing any supporting evidence,” SoE executive director Ian Murray said in the statement on Monday.
“If it is simply the case the Sussexes feel that the press by questioning their actions and commenting on their roles when working as Royals funded by the taxpayer were being racist then they are mistaken.”
“In the case of Meghan Markle and her engagement and marriage to Prince Harry there was universal supporting coverage in the UK media which reflected the warmth shown to the couple by the British people. But that warmth could not and should not mean the press should be expected to refuse to report, investigate and comment on the couple’s lifestyle and actions.”
Murray went on to claim the UK media “has a proud record of calling out racism” and “has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity or influence.
“If sometimes the questions asked are awkward and embarrassing, then so be it, but the press is most certainly not racist. “
The statement generated a backlash among journalists and editors across the British press, especially among those belonging to ethnic minority backgrounds.
On Tuesday, 167 journalists of colour across the British media industry signed an open letter to say they “deplore and reject” the SoE’s statement.
“While Meghan’s comments shone a light on her own personal experiences of discriminatory treatment, they reflect the depressingly familiar reality of how people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are portrayed by the UK press on a daily basis,” the letter reads.
“The Society of Editors’ claim that the Sussexes’ views were made without “supporting evidence” shows a wilful ignorance of not just the discriminatory treatment of Meghan — some of which was highlighted during the interview — but that of other people from an ethnic minority background.”
The society of editors does not and will never represent me or my opinion. As one of the 6% of British journalists from an ethnic minority background, I categorically reject their false assertion and condemn them for publishing these shameless lies. https://t.co/vUIw79X3bV
— Oz Katerji (@OzKaterji) March 9, 2021
The Society of Editors clearly does NOT represent me, or my views. And I’m very happy to see that my editor feels the same https://t.co/W507tZwfSC
— Josh Toussaint-Strauss 🇩🇲🇬🇧 (@JoshuaTou) March 9, 2021
Editors at HuffPost UK, the Guardian, Financial Times and gal-dem have also publicly spoken out against the statement.
I considered not saying anything about this because I’m aware I won’t make myself popular with my peers but i’m just going to stand up and say it: I don’t agree with statement from my industry body that it is “untrue that sections of UK press were bigoted” https://t.co/HZfYzLY6ym
— Jess Brammar (@jessbrammar) March 8, 2021
We disagree with the Society of Editors statement on the Meghan and Harry interview. Guardian News & Media editor-in-chief @kathviner has said the following…
— Guardian Comms (@GuardianComms) March 9, 2021
Fascinating that less than two years after giving up my time for a long phone call about diversity in the media, this is how the Society of Editors decides to behave. Needless to say, I didn’t ever hear anything from them ever again after this email! https://t.co/PjrVuim6wMpic.twitter.com/RhlmgTglyc
— Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (@CharlieBCuff) March 9, 2021
A 2016 study by City University London found that the British journalism industry is 94% white, with just 0.2% journalists Black.