Women in Journalism has been a driving force for greater diversity in our industry since it was founded. Our research has highlighted the lack of women in the industry and, just last year, the devastatingly low numbers of all people of colour.
In the wake of these reports, the lack of real action by industry bodies such as the Society of Editors has been disappointing and we support Eleanor’s decision to leave the board on this important matter of principle. As chair of WiJ she was a passionate supporter of initiatives to improve diversity and continues to do so from the board.
The Georgina Henry award for innovation, which has supported some incredibly diverse and brilliant initiatives since it was founded, will also be held in a separate event this year, and until the society fully reflects on its position and the need to improve the state of our industry.
Eleanor wrote: ”Today I am resigning from my position on the board of the Society of Editors. I did not do so in the immediate aftermath of Ian Murray’s statement saying the UK press was not bigoted because I was assured by fellow board members that a robust rebuttal of his remarks would soon be forthcoming. Two weeks after the extraordinary board meeting in the wake of Murray’s departure that apology and clear statement about the Society’s current view in regards to whether the lack of diversity in our newsrooms amounts to structural racism in the UK media is still not forthcoming. I have lost confidence in the SOE ever delivering such a statement.
Unlike many board members I have no institutional ties keeping me from resigning on this matter of principle, so today that is what I am doing. In August Women In Journalism which I then chaired published research (HERE) showing that in the week that we monitored Britain’s premier news outlets not a single newspaper published a front page story by a black reporter; and in that time only one black person was quoted on the front page of a newspaper (even though this was in the weeks after the Black Lives Matter protests).
I feel like I need to explain the background a bit. Our press becomes not a true reflection of society but a distorting lens if those making the decisions and writing the stories are not representative of the broader population. The chronic lack of diversity in British newspaper newsrooms and the lack of representation of BAME groups in decision making amounts in my view and those of many others, to structural racism in the media. This is not to accuse individuals of racism but merely to remark that the lack of a broader perspective and representation of non-white views can result in unfairly slanted coverage. Often segments of our media do operate a double standard when it comes to race and I believe it is the duty of the Society of Editors to come out and say so. If there is no agreement even on the scale of the problem we are dealing with then it is hard to have confidence in the decisions of the board going forward to remedy it.
I joined the board with a remit to increase diversity in newsrooms and to argue hard for it behind closed doors. This I have done passionately. While there are some excellent colleagues on the SOE board whose hearts I know are in the right place, I do not think they have adequately distanced themselves from Ian Murray’s damaging remarks. The WIJ research in the summer shows that the press lags seriously behind TV and radio in the UK (some 30% of TV presenters are now from BAME backgrounds, though only 12% of journalists are). Most UK newspapers either have zero or single digit numbers of BAME editors and reporters on their staff;. for the media to fulfil its duty in a democracy to inform the public fairly, this has to change.
I wish my former colleagues on the SOE board all the best for their future efforts to increase diversity, there has been some good work going on behind the scenes. But for me the failure to roundly condemn Murray’s remarks means I cannot in good conscience stay. ”