Society of Editors withdraws claim that UK media is not racist

The organisation that represents British newspaper editors has withdrawn its claim that the UK media is not racist or bigoted, after six months of pressure from journalists of colour who said it did not reflect their experience of the industry.

The Society of Editors said it would now work to improve diversity in the industry and would no longer stand by statements made in March by its former director Ian Murray. He had strongly disputed claims by the Duchess of Sussex that negative coverage of her relationship with her husband, Prince Harry, was motivated by her skin colour.

Murray’s insistence that the British media “is most certainly not racist” led to a schism in the newspaper industry between editors who backed his stance and a group, including the Guardian, which strongly disagreed. The subsequent row ultimately led to Murray’s resignation and a crisis of confidence at the society.

When Dawn Alford was appointed as the new executive director last month, more than 100 journalists of colour pointed out that the organisation had done little to deal with the impact of its “insulting and ham-fisted blanket denial of racism”.

Alford has now formally retracted the original claims and said her predecessor’s comments on racism did not “reflect the complex, challenging and changing processes that all society – including the media – is experiencing”.

“We also acknowledge the concerns of journalists of colour who have discussed with us issues they have experienced, whether those problems are due to a lack of diversity in their workplace, career progression to senior levels, or facing hurdles in reporting stories and shaping the news agenda,” she said.

Nonetheless Alford stood by aspects of the original statement: “I would like to again affirm that the UK media has a proud record of calling out racism and we also acknowledge that the UK media has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity, or influence.”

The industry-wide organisation has a remit to promote the industry and campaign for freedom of speech. It represents local newspapers and national titles with a wide range of political outlooks, from the Daily Mail to the Guardian, which can lead to tensions.

A spokesperson for the Guardian, which had considered resigning its membership of the organisation, said it had now decided to remain a member of the Society of Editors, adding: Like all institutions, the British media must work much harder to become both more representative and more self-aware on issues of race and the treatment of people of colour. This is a welcome response from the new director of the Society of Editors, and we look forward to hearing what more they plan to do in future.”

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