Racist Meghan headlines? CBS doubles down on criticism of UK tabloids

CBS renews attack on UK tabloids but ITV removes five headlines from Meghan montage

First published: 15/3/21

A CBS report has accused the UK press of having a “blatant” racial element in its Meghan coverage as it declined to amend a montage of “racist” headlines used in its Oprah interview.

ITV, however, has removed five headlines from the montage in the version of the interview which it broadcast and which is still available on the ITV Player.

CBS, which broadcast the pair’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, has not responded to accusations from Mail publisher Associated Newspapers that headlines were “taken out of context or deliberately edited” to support the claim coverage of Meghan had racist undertones.

In a second letter, Associated warned: “This is not an issue which is going to go away.”

[Read latest: Journalists among 4,000 to make Ofcom complaints over ITV’s Harry and Meghan interview]

Harpo Productions, which produced the UK’s most-watched TV programme of 2021 so far, has said that Harry and Meghan “shared in the interview their personal story”, adding: “We stand by the broadcast in its entirety.” A lawyer for Associated described this as “remarkable insouciance”.

Associated revealed on Thursday, 18 March, it had received only a one-line reply from CBS, which simply stated that it had forwarded its letters to Harpo.

The publisher accused the broadcaster of adopting “the behaviour of an ostrich” and said this was “not an adequate response for a broadcaster to make.”.

“This assumes, of course, that ViacomCBS are concerned by what has
happened and the impact of failing to remedy it on its reputation?” it said, adding: “It is not apparent at present.”

A CBS News report on Monday told viewers that although “all royals face tabloid criticism, sometimes harassment” there had been a racial element to coverage of Meghan, “some of it blatant”.

Labour MP Dawn Butler, the UK’s first elected black female government minister who said she has been bullied by the tabloids herself, told the report: “I think they’ve shown their true colours. They’ve shown they have a bias and they are racist in their reporting.”

Since Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray resigned last week after saying “the UK press is most certainly not racist”, the organisation’s board has held an emergency board meeting on Thursday but not yet issued any update on its plans going forward to, as Murray put it in his outgoing statement, “rebuild its reputation”.

[Read more: Mirror pulls out of Press Awards diversity amid call for retraction of bigotry statement]

Former Sunday Times editorial director Eleanor Mills told the Guardian she wants the organisation, which represents nearly 400 UK editors, to issue an apology and an admission that Murray’s statement was wrong within the next few days.

She threatened to resign if this does not happen and said other board members could follow suit. i editor Oly Duff and Voice news editor Vic Motune have also spoken out against Murray’s original comments, along with high-profile non-board members including the editors of the Guardian, Mirror, FT and Huffpost.

Mills said: “What we decide to do now is important: it could be a real watershed moment for the press.”

Meghan headlines removed by ITV

By Monday ITV had removed four of the headlines used in the Oprah programme amid a voiceover that spoke of “undeniable racist overtones” and said that her treatment “stands apart from the coverage we’ve seen of any other royal”.

A fifth headline was removed from the ITV Hub later in the week.

In her own voiceover, Oprah described it as “constant criticism, blatant sexist racist remarks by British tabloids and internet trolls”, adding that the “daily onslaught of vitriol and condemnation from the UK press became overwhelming and, in Meghan’s words, almost ‘unsurvivable'”.

Meghan said the coverage ended up making her feel “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore”.

The four headlines initially removed by ITV from its on-demand hub were:

The fifth headline now removed is:

Telegraph columnist Michael Deacon, who wrote the piece, defended it as a “brief and innocuous piece on the age-old observation that America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language”.

Deacon wrote: “I expect it’s just an innocent misunderstanding. After all, one lesson we were clearly meant to draw from the programme was that, sometimes, sections of the media will misrepresent a piece of information in order to make it fit an agenda.

“So it’s surely unthinkable that the programme would have done the very same thing itself.”

The first four were removed after Mail publisher Associated Newspapers complained that the editing of some of the headlines “was not made apparent to viewers and, as a result, this section of the programme is both seriously inaccurate and misleading”.

Of the story reporting on comments that led to a woman’s suspension from UKIP, the publisher said: “It is a thoroughly dishonest misrepresentation of a newspaper headline and article which was the opposite of racist. No one viewing the programme would have understood this from the montage.”

Of Johnson’s piece, the Mail said she had admitted her phrasing was “regrettable” but said it was “plainly misleading to present this sentence out of context, disguised as a headline, and as an example of racist online abuse”.

The publisher also defended the use of “niggling” as a common British word that “carries no colonial or racist undertones whatsoever”.

The Mail was among British publications to report on US Vogue being mocked last week after writer Hamish Bowles said the word “seemed a surprising choice and jumped from the page, as presumably it was intended to”.

What headlines remain in the Oprah interview montage?

The remaining UK headlines in the montage used in the part of the interview about the press and the impact it had on Meghan’s mental health are:

UK headlines. Picture: ITV screenshot
Picture: ITV screenshot

These US and Australian headlines were also among those used:

  • National Enquirer – Monster Meghan exposed!
  • Globe – Harry knocks up TV star!
  • Globe – Meghan’s reign of terror!
  • New Idea – Meghan’s betrayal rocks the Palace
US headlines. Picture: ITV screenshot

Press Gazette understands The Sun and Telegraph, two of the most cited in the montage, have no plans to follow in Associated’s footsteps to formally complain about the sequence.

Archwell makes donation to Press Pad

Less than a week after the interview was broadcast Meghan and Harry put their money behind the cause to diversify the media, announcing their Archewell Foundation was one of the first donors to the new sister charity of Press Pad, which until the pandemic hit partnered unpaid media interns with hosts who can provide them with accommodation and mentoring.

The Press Pad Charitable Foundation will award bursaries for mentorship and subsidised accommodation to help people from less represented backgrounds into journalism, alongside offering networking, training and smaller grants to niche and intersectional media diversity groups.

Press Pad said: “We look forward to continuing to make positive & lasting change to improve social mobility in the UK media.”

Many UK publishers now run their own schemes to help get people from underrepresented ethnic and social backgrounds into their newsrooms.

The biggest scheme in the UK is the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ Journalism Diversity Fund, which is financially supported by 16 media companies and offered bursaries to help a record 58 students study for their Diploma in Journalism in 2020.

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