Head of newsgathering at ITV News: It shouldn't take a tragedy for media to take racial inequality seriously

In the past week, our teams at ITV News in the US and at home in the UK have been working around the clock to tell the devastating story of George Floyd, the unarmed black man who died during a police arrest in Minneapolis.

This tragedy has started a new wave of civil rights activism across the globe – a moment in history that cannot be understated.

At a time when millions across the world have been at home isolating, these shocking actions have brought people back together and out on the streets to fight for basic human rights.

Rightly, the story has consistently been at the top of all our bulletins on ITV and given huge prominence. We have reported on the enormity of what happened in the US, but also the enormity of the movement it has created.

But it shouldn’t take a tragic event like this for us – including the media – to sit up and take the issue of racial inequality and prejudice seriously.

And at ITV News we’ve made investigating and uncovering racism and prejudice an editorial priority, briefing the newsroom earlier this year that it should be an even bigger focus for our work.

ITV News head of newsgathering Andrew Dagnell. Picture: ITN

Our journalists have produced some fantastic work recently.

Shehab Khan, our political reporter, conducted a survey of BAME MPs which found that half of those who responded had experienced racism while in Parliament.

And even before Covid-19, our health correspondent Emily Morgan revealed frontline doctors and nurses were being subjected to racist abuse by patients, with attacks increasing by 145% .

When coronavirus spread to the UK, from the outset we wanted to make sure we were highlighting the people who were falling through the cracks and being disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

As well as telling the heartbreaking stories of loss day after day from all communities, we identified early on the extra danger posed by Covid-19 specifically to BAME groups, including those working on the NHS frontline.

Not content with waiting for the Government review on the issue, we carried out the first independent survey of BAME NHS staff, distributed by the biggest medical organisations across the country. We wanted to understand from those directly affected why so many BAME healthcare professionals were dying.

The results were alarming, exposing what some believe is systemic racism within the NHS.

Some 84% said they believed the deployment of BAME staff to frontline roles with higher potential for exposure to the virus was the cause for the disproportionate impact. A British Pakistani consultant cardiologist told us: “Many of the white doctors are in management positions leaving more BAME on the coal face.”

The story led our bulletins and generated a strong reaction among viewers, especially on social media.

We continue to pursue this story and demand answers from those in authority. As a newsroom we are proud to give time and space to an important story that matters to so many.

And it’s that time and space on issues of racial inequality that it is important we continue to build into our programmes and digital services, even when George Floyd is no longer dominating the news. We have a duty to report on it – there is still a huge amount of work to do.

Andrew Dagnell is head of newsgathering at ITV News.

Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire

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