There has been “not nearly enough” progress in black representation among the UK media in the past 40 years, according to the incoming editor of The Voice.
Lester Holloway (pictured), who will join The Voice – which bills itself as “Britain’s favourite black newspaper” on 14 September from his role as policy officer for anti-racism at the Trades Union Congress.
He said that although there has been progres on media deversity, this often does not extend to senirpositions. Overall there is “still a long way to go”, he said.
He pointed to last week’s controversy over ex-Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole presenting a new BBC podcast about R&B music in place of a black presenter.
“Now, this in a way shines a light on the real problem, or one of the real problems, which is that while black representation has been increasing in broadcast and also in print or online media, the decision-makers are often not diverse,” Holloway told Press Gazette.
“And so we need to make sure that we see a change not just at the bottom levels but actually right the way to the top because ultimately that affects the decisions that are made about stories, what stories to cover, about what programmes to commission, about how black and diverse communities are reflected on screen, and all of this matters.”
The Voice news editor Vic Motune spoke out earlier this year amid the row over the Society of Editors’ denial of bigotry in the journalism industry. Motune, who had joined the Society’s board a year earlier to help tackle the issue, said he felt “deep disappointment” and feared initiatives to improve diversity in the industry had been dealt a “serious blow”.
Holloway said these issues are part of why The Voice, which is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, still has a significant role and relevance to black communities. It now puts more focus on its online presence having turned the weekly paper into a monthly publication in 2019.
“The purpose of it is not about just doing more stories about the black community… it’s actually about having a conversation within communities about issues that matter,” he said.
“It’s about reflecting sometimes the positive achievements of the community that we don’t often see or we don’t see enough of within mainstream media, but also seeing that through a lens of overcoming the barriers that exist,” Holloway said.
“And so it’s about saying yes, it’s great to actually see these black figures of all walks of life that are breaking through and achieving things, but actually those obstacles, those barriers are an issue and we need to campaign to make sure that we create change.”
Holloway was previously editor of New Nation, a rival newspaper to The Voice that launched in 1996 but folded in 2009. He was also once a reporter on The Voice and has worked for other media including Eastern Eye, Caribbean Times, the Evening Standard, Telegraph and BBC.
Since leaving New Nation he has worked in a range of policy and communications roles such as Operation Black Vote, and think tanks the Runnymede Trust and the Centre for Labour and Social Studies, but has decided to return to the black media to help push for the change he wants to see.
The Voice has always been a campaigning newspaper, he said, noting that it was “born out of struggle” and set up after the 1981 Brixton riots by Val McCalla of East End News, “who really saw the need for the black community to have a voice because there was a feeling that the community didn’t have a voice at the time”.
The newspaper campaigned for the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence before the Daily Mail joined the cause, Holloway said, and has campaigned against institutional racism “all its life”.
“These are issues that are, obviously, from time to time picked up within mainstream media, but actually we need to make sure that there’s a constant holding of politicians’ feet to the fire on these issues,” said Holloway as he noted a lack of progress for black communities in stop-and-search discrimination, rates of police tasering, and unemployment rates.
“We’re in very worrying times where race and racial injustice is slipping off the agenda and there’s a real need to make sure that it’s pulled back, that the voices of black communities – who are the ones who are bearing the brunt of this – are actually heard and that we don’t just talk about the bad news,but actually we talk about what we’re going to do about it, how we’re going to come together, how we’re going to fight injustice,” Holloway added.
“And also how we’re going to, in a way, consolidate as a community so that we survive and thrive.”
Picture: Lester Holloway