Barbara Blake-Hannah prize launched as Press Gazette bids to improve British Journalism Awards diversity

Barbara Blake-Hannah

Press Gazette has launched a new award aimed at recognising up and coming ethnic minority journalists named in honour of the UK’s first black on-screen TV news reporter.

Barbara Blake-Hannah has given her name to this new British Journalism Award in the hope that it will help inspire other journalists to break through barriers in the way that she did.

Press Gazette is also today announcing a series of measures intended to help the British Journalism Awards better reflect the diversity of the UK.

Entrance to the awards will be free this year for journalists from ethnic minority backgrounds, for women and also for any journalists with a disability if they do not work for a news organisation which is able to pay for their entry.

This initiative is being funded thanks to sponsorship from Google and is hoped to cover the cost of at least 100 new entrants to the awards.

This year, for the first time, there is a 50/50 gender split on the 76-strong judging panel (full details here).

Press Gazette analysis has found that over the eight years of the British Journalism Awards 740 finalists have been male versus 300 female.

Blake-Hannah started out as a TV journalist in 1968, working for Thames TV, and went on to interview famous figures including prime minister Harold Wilson and actor Michael Caine.

Bree Johnson-Obeng told her story for Sky News last year.

It was Bree’s idea to set up an award in Blake-Hannah’s honour and she put Press Gazette in contact with her in Jamaica, where she has has had a successful career as a film-maker and has also been an independent senator in the country’s parliament.

Bree said: “A lot of black women are written out of history and it felt like Barbara was a prime example of that. She had her career cut short. I’m hoping that the things that shut doors for her can be used to open doors for others.”

Blake-Hannah said: “I had no idea that something as simple as getting a job would make me a role model. I am so honoured. My father started the Press Association in Jamaica and I know he is looking down with a big smile on his face.”

She spoke  about her experiences and the fact an award has been named in her honour on Radio 4’s Today.

Speaking about the reaction to her appointment from some viewers, she said: “Many viewers didn’t like it. People would write in and phone in saying ‘get that n-word off the screens’.

“When my contract came up for renewal they took that up for consideration and did not renew. They showed me some of the letters that came in to justify not renewing my contract.”

Later on working for ATV in Birmingham, she said she struggled to find a hotel which was willing to rent her a hotel room.

She said: “As a black person 50 years ago you were accustomed to the fact you were not going to be liked and you had to live with it or not. You had to choose whether to live with it or not. After eight years I chose not to live with it.”

On the fact that an award has been named in her honour, she said: “Out of lemons lemonade has been made.”

Press Gazette editor-in-chief Dominic Ponsford said: “The UK journalism industry has a poor record of reflecting the diversity of the UK and the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards winners and finalists have historically reflected that.

“So when Bree Johnson contacted us with the idea of setting up an award in honour of Britain’s first black on-screen journalist Barbara Blake Hannah we thought this was a great way to start to address this problem.
“I’m ashamed to say I was not aware of Barbara’s story, but having spoken to her and read up about her history I can’t think of a better role model for the next generation of BAME journalists who are breaking through barriers in the way that she did.”
All BAME journalists who enter any of the 25 awards categories through the supported-entry scheme will be entered into the Barbara Blake-Hannah award.
Full details about how to enter the British Journalism Awards are here (the deadline for entries is 30 September. The winners will be announced at a virtual event which is being held on 9 December.

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