The National Press Awards will be postponed, il Guardiano capisce, after the board of the Society of Editors concluded that a series of withdrawals over its statement that there was no racism in the British media threatened its integrity.
The decision emerged in an emergency meeting on Thursday prompted by the resignation of Ian Murray, executive director of the industry body, over his statement in response to the Duchess of Sussex’s claims in her interview with Oprah Winfrey.
After Murray’s withdrawal critics of the body had demanded a clearer repudiation of his initial statement than the clarification issued earlier this week. It is understood that after the meeting a new statement is being drafted.
In the meeting, which one participant described as “testy” and another as “difficult but a move towards a better result”, most participants are understood to have agreed that stronger language was needed to bring the crisis to an end after a number of editors including those of the Financial Times, Guardian and HuffPost criticised the initial statement. Journalists and outlets from the Daily Mirror to the Bristol Cable have since withdrawn from at least some categories in protest.
One participant said the meeting was dominated by “deep frustration and anger” and concerns that the credibility of the body had been significantly damaged – to the extent that there was discussion of whether it was still capable of functioning properly. It is understood that at least one board member questioned the inclusion of language saying that structural racism was an issue in the British press.
The board was seeking a position that would satisfy the SoE’s critics and achieve a broad consensus, with fears that if it were to explicitly say that media outlets have published racist content or rely on racist structures other publishers could withdraw as a protest of their own.
Seeking to push a clearer repudiation of the initial statement is a group including PA Media’s managing director, Polly Curtis; the former BBC editorial director, Kamal Ahmed; the editor of the Voice, Vic Motune; the former Sunday Times editorial director Eleanor Mills, and the editor of the i, Oliver Duff.
On Thursday Motune added his voice publicly to those critical of the initial statement, writing on the Voice’s website: “Although the Society of Editors’ executive director, Ian Murray, has resigned, my deep disappointment at his comments denying the fact that sections of the UK press are racist strongly remains.”
Noting that he had not been consulted on the initial statement and would not have approved of it, Ha aggiunto: “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.”
Some in that group had sought the postponement in the awards, due to be held on 31 marzo, with a number of outlets withdrawing from contention and the host, ITV News presenter Charlene White, also stepping back after the initial statement was released.
Earlier on Thursday, 151 journalists of colour followed up an open letter earlier in the week with a new statement saying that while Murray’s resignation was a reflection of the gravity of the circumstances “this has never been about one man”.
They went on: “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.”
As evidence of that issue, the group pointed to analysis it has carried out showing that between 2017 e 2019, just six of 104 national awards to individual journalists went to journalists of colour – only two of them women. The Society of Editors has pointed to its Driving Diversity and Reporting Diversity categories as evidence of its attempts to improve the situation. But at least a dozen of 27 individual categories at this year’s award have only white journalists shortlisted.
The Daily Mirror and local publication the Bristol Cable joined those withdrawing from at least some categories on Thursday. The Mirror editor, Alison Phillips, announced the outlet’s decision on Twitter, saying that it would withdraw from contention from the Driving Diversity category. Darren Lewis, Eva Simpson and Jason Beattie, nominated for work for the Mirror, also withdrew from contention.
The Bristol Cable said: “Implicit and explicit racism has long been present in parts of the British media, often used cynically to attract clicks and sales. Those bearing the brunt are often members of the public without a platform to expose bigotry or its impacts.”
Open Democracy said it did not plan to withdraw its entries. Noting that it “respects the decisions of other outlets which have done so” it said it wants to “enter, be present in and disrupt spaces of exclusion in the media”.