I think the UK news industry may owe a debt of gratitude to Prince Harry.
They are words I never thought I would write given Harry’s often fractious relationship with the media.
I was initially sceptical about his denunciation of the UK tabloid press as “bigoted” earlier this month and found it hard to believe the claim made in the Oprah documentary that negative coverage of his wife Meghan Markle was prompted by racism.
But Liz Gerard’s review of press coverage from recent years has revealed elements of bigotry and intolerance based on prejudice.
While Gerard’s review was excoriatingly critical overall, she said she could not prove that the coverage was rooted in racism.
However half of the 1,002 Press Gazette subscribers who chose to respond to our race and the media email survey said they had seen Meghan coverage that they thought was racist. And among non-white survey respondents, the vast majority said they had seen Meghan articles that they thought were racist.
Some two-thirds of the 721 survey respondents describing themselves as journalists said they thought there was some evidence of bigotry in the UK media, and they said it was not an issue that was confined to the tabloids.
Mail Online may have intended to merely point to the rags to riches nature of Meghan’s journey with its “(almost) straight outta Compton” story. But a significant number of people (particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds) were seriously offended by it.
Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview would clearly have benefited from a fact-check. And the headline montage used to justify claims of racist coverage was misleadingly edited (something CBS News still shamefully refuses to accept).
But as our survey shows, widespread bigotry and racism concerns extend far beyond the tabloids singled out by Harry to pretty much all aspects of the UK media.
The debate he ignited has also prompted us to lift up the stone and look upon some pretty unpalatable truths about racism in our industry.
Some 40% of respondents to our survey said they had experienced or witnessed racism whilst working in the UK media: some overt, most more insidious. Many of the examples were historic, but many were also more up to date. Lack of diversity in newsrooms was the biggest issue that was flagged.
Press Gazette has been alive to the issues around race and the media for some time.
In August 2020 we spoke to a variety of young journalists of colour about their feelings of being “disenfranchised” and “alienated” in an industry that lacks diversity.
And also that month we announced various initiatives aimed at improving British Journalism Awards diversity (including making the event free to enter for non-white journalists who did not have an employer willing to pay for their entry).
But there is clearly more that we can all do.
The news industry – tabloid and broadsheet, left-wing and right-wing, online and in print – is an enormous force for good. But it is not perfect.
My initial view was that Prince Harry was wrong to say what he said about tabloid media bigotry because such blanket criticism fuels an atmosphere where journalists are increasingly abused for doing their jobs.
But I also said it was too serious an allegation to dismiss out of hand and that we, as an industry, needed to reflect on it.
Looking at the results of our survey, listening to the many journalists who have spoken out on this issue and reading Gerard’s review of coverage – I for one have been doing a lot of reflecting. And I’d like to revise my earlier view and say that Harry has highlighted an issue that needs to be addressed, not just for the tabloids but for our whole industry.