Meghan Interview Reveals Disturbing Trends of Racism in UK Media
Reactions to the interview highlighted discrimination that people of colour face in the UK media and society.
“I would sit up at night, and I was just, like, I don’t understand how all of this (the stories in the media) is being churned out … And I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” said the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, in an explosive interview to Oprah Winfrey, with her husband Prince Harry, that garnered international headlines.
The interview levelling allegations of racism and discrimination didn’t just remind the world of the pedestal that most of the British media and the tabloids has put the royal family on, despite all odds, but it has also brought to the fore the severe discrimination and racism that minorities and people of colour face within the media in the United Kingdom and society.
In a fallout within the journalistic community following the interview, statements by two journalistic bodies and the subsequent commentary have highlighted the poor understanding of racial issues within the British media.
While the UK’s Society of Editors (SOE) on Monday, 8 March, released a statement against Meghan and Harry’s claims of bias and racism by the media and out-rightly denied the existence of racism in journalistic circles, over 250 journalists of colour slammed the statement, calling it a blatant disregard and denial of the discrimination that they face.
What Did Society of Editors Say?
In a statement issued soon after the interview, the Society of Editors released a statement condemning her remarks.
“The UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account following the attack on the press by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the Society of Editors has commented,” the SOE said.
“It is not acceptable for the Duke and Duchess to make such claims without providing any supporting evidence. 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,” Ian Murray, executive director of SOE wrote.
Murray further said that the UK media had shown a lot of support and warmth during the royal wedding of Meghan and Harry but that “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.”
The statement also called out Meghan and Harry for opening up to the US media while bashing the UK media for invasion of privacy,
“The UK media 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."
Over 250 ‘Journalists of Colour’ Slam SOE’s ‘No Racism’ Claim
Over 250 journalists of colour, including those working with reputed media houses like The Guardian and The Observer, responded to the statement by the SOE, saying that the blanket refusal to accept there is no bigotry in the British press is “laughable and does a disservice to journalists of colour.”
“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 statement said.
Slamming SOE’s remarks on Meghan speaking “without supporting evidence”, the journalists highlighted three reports:
- A 2016 UN refugee agency commissioned research from Cardiff University which showed that British press coverage was “uniquely aggressive in its campaigns against refugees and migrants”.
- In 2016, two English newspapers were accused of ‘fuelling prejudice’ in a report on rising racist violence and hate speech in the UK based on a study by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).
- A 2018 research from the MCB showed that the most coverage of Muslims in British news outlets has a negative slant, concluding that news stories in the mainstream media are contributing to Islamophobia.
The report further went on to quote several other studies about the inclusion of Muslims, women, and minority groups to back the statement, adding that “it would be a better use of the Society of Editors’ time to reflect on the lack of diversity, particularly at senior levels within the UK media, which contributes to the negative narratives in the UK media, which have been highlighted.”
SOE Executive Director Resigns After Backlash
Soon after the statement, SOE issued a clarification and Murray resigned as the executive director of the body amid severe backlash.
“The Society of Editors has a proud history of campaigning for freedom of speech and the vital work that journalists do in a democracy to hold power to account. Our statement on Meghan and Harry was made in that spirit but did not reflect what we all know: that there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion. We will reflect on the reaction our statement prompted and work towards being part of the solution,” the clarification read.
‘Racism in UK Media Reflective of Country’s Poor Understanding of Issue’
Speaking to The New York Times (NYT), David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun, said that racism may not be the direct cause of the British media’s stance on Meghan’s interview, but “enormous biases do exist in the British newsrooms".
“In this country, we are way behind the US in terms of this being a topic that is on the lips of people all the time,” he said, adding, “There is a huge ignorance of what racism is in this country.”
Gavan Titley, a senior lecturer at the Maynooth University and author of ‘Racism and Media’ told NYT that the claims of a royal family member being worried about the ‘skin colour’ of Meghan and Harry’s son Archie was driven by a “deep denial of the British society about the existence of racism” and that “many have a limited understanding of its nuances.”
Bias Towards Outspoken Royals: 'Every Soap Opera Needs Its Villian'
Several experts and commentators have often pointed out the discriminatory coverage of the stories related to Meghan and Harry.
Writing for The Conversation, Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster, says that this kind of “visceral hostility” is not new to the tabloids who for years have resorted to toxic coverage of news stories and reportage about the royal family.
An article by the Buzzfeed News published on 13 January, 2020 showed how the tabloids have taken contradictory stands while headlining life events of Meghan and her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
One of the reasons, Barnett writes, is the several legal cases that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have dragged the tabloids into over the past two years, some of which they have won. Another reason, he said was the “the sales and the clickbait” that come to the publishers which thrive upon the “worldwide fascination with the Royal soap opera.”
“Every soap opera needs its heroes and antagonists. Britain’s tabloid press has demonstrated over the years how adept it is at creating fairy tale princesses and pantomime villains, regardless of the impact on the individuals themselves. Stories are embellished, distorted or simply manufactured to generate more clickbait, and thus more revenue,” Barnett wrote.
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