View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. News
March 9, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:06am

Bigoted UK press? Guardian and FT editors call for reflection in industry

By Dominic Ponsford

Harry and Meghan claimed last night that racism prompted negative press coverage which drove them out of the UK.

The Society of Editors statement saying “the UK media is not bigoted” prompted more than 3,000 replies when Press Gazette shared it on Twitter – nearly all of them disagreeing.

The Guardian issued a statement saying “we disagree with the Society of Editors statement on the Meghan and Harry interview”.

[Update: Journalists slam ‘industry in denial’ as Society of Editors says it will ‘work towards being part of the solution’]

Editor Katharine Viner said: “Every institution in the United Kingdom is currently examining its own position on vital issues of race and the treatment of people of colour. As I have said before, the media must do the same. It must be much more representative and more self-aware.”

Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf, whose paper published its first diversity and inclusion report last week, also disagreed, saying: “There is work to be done across all sectors in the UK to call out and challenge racism. The media has a critical role to play, and editors must ensure that our newsrooms and coverage reflect the societies we live in.”

[Update 2: Mirror pulls out of Press Awards diversity amid call for retraction of bigotry statement]

Content from our partners
New technology from EX.CO helps publishers double on-site video revenue
Five ways to fail in media job interviews
How Germany's Ippen.Media mastered content planning across 86 newsrooms

Campaign groups such as Stop Funding Hate and Hacked Off are among those joining others who believe negative coverage of Meghan was fuelled by the fact she is mixed race.

Harry made the claims in unseen footage from the Oprah Winfrey interview, reported by the BBC:

He said that shortly after the couple announced they would step back from royal duties [in January 2020], someone who was “friends with a lot of the editors” had warned him about their confrontational stance with the press: “Please don’t do this with the media, they will destroy your life.”

The conversation happened at a fundraising dinner in January 2020, a few months after Meghan sued the Mail on Sunday over a private letter and Prince Harry said he feared his wife would fall “victim to the same powerful forces” that he lost his mother to.

The friend of the editors told him: “You need to understand that the UK is very bigoted.” But the duke responded: “The UK is not bigoted, the UK press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids.”

Harry told Oprah: “If the source of information is inherently corrupt or racist or biased then that filters out to the rest of society.”

He also said: “There is this invisible . . . what’s termed or referred to as the ‘invisible contract’ behind closed doors between the institution and the tabloids, the UK tabloids.

“…if you as a family member are willing to wine, dine and give full access to these reporters, then you will get better press.”

Meghan pointed to a letter written by a cross-party group of 72 female MPs in 2019 which said that UK national media was “seeking to tear down a woman for no apparent reason” and said some stories had “colonial undertones”.

“Yet no one from my family ever said anything over those three years. And that . . . that hurts,” Harry said. “But I also am acutely aware of where my family stand and how scared they are of the tabloids turning on them.”

Meghan said: “There’s a reason that these tabloids have holiday parties at the Palace. They’re hosted by the Palace, the tabloids are. You know, there is a construct that’s at play there.

“And because from the beginning of our relationship, they were so attacking and inciting so much racism, really, it changed our . . . the risk level, because it went . . . it wasn’t just catty gossip. It was bringing out a part of people that was racist in how it was charged. And that changed the threat. That changed the level of death threats. That changed everything.”

Royal correspondents questioned the “holiday parties” claim with veteran royal watcher Robert Jobson commenting: “What on earth are they talking about?”

The Oprah interview contrasted positive coverage of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, versus negative coverage of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

One Mail on Sunday story, pictured below was highlighted and quoted experts offering positive and negative theories as to why Meghan cradled her baby bump in public.

It is juxtaposed with a positive Mail Online story about Kate cradling her her baby bump.

Another Mail on Sunday headline quoted by Oprah as evidence of racist coverage said: “Meghan’s seed will taint our Royal Family”.

The report was an expose of racist texts sent to then UKIP leader Henry Bolton by his girlfriend which prompted his sacking from the party.

bigoted press

‘UK media is not bigoted’, says Society of Editors

In its statement yesterday the Society of Editors said: “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.”

Director of the Society Ian Murray 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,” commented Murray.

“In the case of Meghan Markle and her engagement and marriage to Prince Harry there was universal supporting coverage in the UK media which reflected the warmth shown to the couple by the British people. But that warmth 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.

“It is a pity the couple did not mention in their interview the huge support the UK media has shown to the charitable works carried out by the Duke and Duchess. The UK press also played a large role in ensuring the prince’s service in Afghanistan went ahead, agreeing to an embargo on reporting his deployment to enable him to carry out his Army role in the Middle East.

“The UK media has a proud record of calling out racism and also being at the forefront of campaigns to support mental health awareness, another of the issues raised by the couple.”

It echoes a comment piece written by The Sun in January 2020 when claims of media racism claims were first aired:

“We are sick, though, of woke morons crying racism over press criticism of Meghan and Harry. It is ludicrous to conflate racist abuse on social media with legitimate newspaper scrutiny.”

Whilst some journalists welcomed the Society of Editors statement, it was hard to find any support for this comment among the many who shared it on Twitter.

The Twitter post below from Press Gazette has prompted more than 10m “impressions” on the platform and most of the 2,700+ responses, many of them abusive, disagreed with the statement:

Nadine White, race correspondent for The Independent, said: “Something is clearly amiss. The Society of Editors said it was untrue that sections of the UK press were bigoted. Evidence – the actual coverage – suggests otherwise and, also, how does one explain the UK media industry’s appalling diversity statistics? Something is clearly amiss.”

Former Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson said: “Sad but true… a huge section of the UK’s national press is as bigoted as ever, and at times outright racist.”

And former Times journalist Katherine O’Donnell: “The claim that no section of the UK press is bigoted is as absurd as it is untrue. As a national newspaper journalist, I have seen every kind of prejudice and bigotry at work in UK newsrooms.”

HuffPost editor Jess Brammar said on Twitter “I’m not going to smile and nod at something like that (although I am possibly self-destructing my future employment prospects!).

“I don’t disagree with every bit of that statement – but that top line is not how some people working in our industry feel about the bigotry of some sections of the UK press aimed at *people like them*. We should vocally defend our industry but also be very aware of supporting them.”

Rachel Oldroyd, editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, said: “The SoE statement does not represent how I feel as a member of the British press nor as an editor.”

Former broadcaster Phil Harding, who is on the advisory board of the Society of Editors tweeted a link to the statement and said: “As someone who fiercely believes in media freedom, I think the British media has a lot of hard questions to ask itself about the issues raised by the interview.”

Meghan claim Royal PR failed to protect her ‘not right’

Meghan also claimed that Royal PRs failed to contradict or protect her against untrue stories.

But Mail on Sunday royal editor Emily Andrews said on Twitter that this was not true.

She said: “Meghan says the press team didn’t defend her when ‘things weren’t true’. That is just not right. The press team with whom I interacted defended them again & again & again, told me things were wrong (so didn’t publish) & indeed tried to stop me when true.”

Thomas Markle Good Morning Britain interview

Meghan’s estranged father Thomas appeared on Good Morning Britain on Tuesday to respond to the interview, saying he did not “think the British are racist”.

He told of his regret at staging paparazzi photographs ahead of Meghan and Harry’s wedding.

“I wish I hadn’t done the whole thing. But here’s the other side of the coin. No one took any time to protect any member of our family. We were attacked by the press every day.”

He continued: “Nobody was there to care for us, nobody looked after us.”

He added: “No one helped us. Then I saw a headline saying they recommended… to Harry and Meghan that someone come and help me, someone come and take care of me and Meghan and Harry denied that and said, ‘don’t do it,’ so I was left out to dry.

“And in spite of all that, I still apologised, I’m apologising today again… I also said we all make mistakes… but I’ve never played naked pool and I’ve never dressed up like Hitler.”

Of the letter Meghan wrote to her father that he subsequently released in part to the Mail on Sunday, Thomas said he shared it to “retaliate” to claims made about it in People magazine.

“Meghan’s friends were telling a story about me that was mostly lies and after reading these things, these lies, I said I have to retaliate and by retaliating I released part of the letter,” he said.

“I didn’t release the whole letter – had I done that, you would have seen something that was horrible. I had held that letter for six months then I was going to destroy it, it was so bad.”

He added: “The people in the magazine said that she reached out to me with love and wanted to get back together. That wasn’t what it was intended to do.”

Topics in this article :

Email to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network