A Daily Mail sports journalist of colour has admitted that even he has been guilty of writing about black sports stars differently to their white counterparts because of unconscious bias.
Sami Mokbel said England star Raheem Sterling’s claim last year that the press treats black footballers unfairly compared to their white peers was right and had sparked a much-needed debate within the industry.
The football news correspondent told an NCTJ diversity event yesterday that it was a “massive challenge” to change the language in sports reporting because the status quo goes back “decades and decades”.
Mokbel (pictured, second right), who has previously worked at the Daily Star, said: “I think the way that certainly black players are represented in sports media are different to the way that white players are.
“I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past.
“You would describe black players as ‘monsters’ and ‘runners’ whereas you would describe a white player as being technically gifted and maybe more balletic in the way he plays.
“There are also black players who are as technically gifted as a white player, but you would just write differently and describe them differently.”
Mokbel told Press Gazette today: “As a BAME journalist myself, I certainly wouldn’t condone any kind of unconscious bias in my reporting.
“The term ‘monster’ has been commonly used in football across the media to describe physical players, whether white or black, and I have used the term myself in the past to describe white players more often than black ones.
“Everyone understands Raheem Sterling’s point about the dangers of falling into the trap of racial stereotyping – which he highlighted last year – and we all have a responsibility to be alert and careful with the language that we use.”
In a viral Instagram post last year, Sterling said the way newspapers covered stories differently helped to “fuel racism and aggressive behaviour”. He added: “All I have to say is have a second thought about fair publicity and give all players an equal chance.”
More than 100 black and minority ethnic journalists in the Black Journalists Collective UK wrote to editors after Sterling’s post calling on them to “urgently show their commitment to improving their reporting of racial issues and subjects, and to increasing the diversity of their staff…”
Asked yesterday what the Mail was doing to challenge unconscious bias among its reporters to ensure they act fairly, Mokbel said the “most important” thing was to have more BAME staff.
Press Gazette understands the Daily Mail currently has four reporters from a BAME background on its sports desk.
The Daily Mail’s Stephen Lawrence Scholarship gives places on its trainee scheme to aspiring journalists from a BAME background with the aim of promoting diversity in the industry in the name of the black teenager who was killed in a racist attack in 1993.
One of the most recent trainees on the scheme is a refugee whose parents fled the civil war in Somalia. Another former Stephen Lawrence scholar has just been appointed the Mail’s night news editor.
“I think we are making steps as an organisation and as a desk to ensure that we have more prevalent BAME voices, but the mission is far from done. We still want to improve on that,” Mokbel added.
The NCTJ’s 2017 Diversity in Journalism report found that about 94 per cent of journalists are white compared to 91 per cent of the UK workforce.
But it added “the lack of diversity in journalism is less positive than even this would suggest” due to the concentration of journalism in London, the south east and urban centres where ethnic minorities represent a higher proportion of the local population.
But Mokbel suggested BAME staff quotas are not the way forward.
“I would hate to think that I was employed by the Daily Mail because I am BAME. I know that I was selected because I was good at my job. That has to be the basis of everything,” he said.
“You can’t just bring a guy or someone into a newsroom because he ticks a box. In my eyes that is totally wrong.”