Two-thirds of journalists who responded to a Press Gazette survey believe the UK media is bigoted or racist in some way.
And most respondents who said there was at least some bigotry in the UK media said it was not issue that was confined to the tabloid press, but went across sectors.
Our anonymous survey was carried out from 22-26 March 2021 and sent via email only to the 10,000 readers of Press Gazette’s email newsletters, which are sent out to an audience of media professionals.
While those who chose to respond to the survey were self-selecting, they encompassed a broad mix of people both by ethnicity and work sector.
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Respondents highlighted perceived shortcomings in how the UK media treats racial minorities both in its reporting and inside newsrooms with many citing the industry’s lack of diversity, particularly at senior levels.
Of the responses received, 72% described themselves as journalists, over half of which (52%) described themselves as editor or manager level seniority.
Is the UK media is racist or bigoted in some way?
Two in three respondents (66%) said that the UK media is racist or bigoted in some way, echoing Prince Harry’s assertion that the press is bigoted .
Of the respondents who held this view, there was little difference in stance between journalists and non-journalist Press Gazette subscribers with 66% of journalists saying the media was bigoted or racist compared to 64% of people working in other roles.
When it came to the ethnicity of respondent, opinions differed significantly.
Respondents describing themselves as white (794 people) were far less likely to say that the UK media was racist or bigoted (62%) than people of other ethnic origins (82%).
An analysis of industry sectors also revealed stark differences.
Only 52% of people working for national tabloids thought the media was racist or bigoted compared to 84% of people working for national broadcast media. Only 46% of the 129 retired people and students who answered our survey thought that the UK media was racist or bigoted.
Breaking down responses by both ethnicity and place of work also revealed some interesting differences.
Less than half (46%) of white respondents working for the tabloid press agreed that the UK media is bigoted or racist – compared to 81% of white respondents from the broadsheets.
Although Prince Harry’s remarks were primarily directed at the tabloid press, we wanted to understand what readers thought about racism and intolerance in the UK media more broadly.
It’s not just an issue with the tabloids
Almost 80% of respondents said that racism and bigotry go beyond the UK tabloids and affect other parts of the UK media.
This is something that respondents working in other sectors such as the broadsheet press and broadcast were keen to acknowledge. Ninety per cent of people working for broadsheets and 83% of people working for UK national television and radio news brands said that bigotry and racism affect the industry more widely. In no sector, did the majority of respondents feel that intolerance is just a problem for the popular press.
What survey respondents said about racism in the media
We asked survey respondents to specify which coverage they thought was racist or bigoted.
Several respondents pointed to Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column from August 2018, in which he likened Muslim women who wear the burka to letterboxes as a particularly egregious example of racism in upmarket or broadsheet titles.
“When a broadsheet like the Telegraph allows a high-profile columnist to talk of Muslim women looking like ‘letterboxes ‘ it taints us all,” said one respondent.
Another respondent highlighted a 2017 piece from The Times that had said a “white Christian child” had been left distressed after being placed with Muslim foster carers in Tower Hamlets.
“This piece, for example, is horrifically Islamophobic in a way that wouldn’t have happened if there were people in the newsroom who either are or know British citizens who are Muslim,” said the respondent who highlighted the article for mention.
“Broadsheets are pretty much just as bigoted as the tabloids, but their bigotry usually manifests itself in subtler ways. Whereas tabloid bigotry is often quite overt, histrionic and infantile – a huge, front-page headline accusing a large proportion of the Muslim population of being terrorist sympathisers, or a sizeable editorial saying African refugees are cockroaches who should be machine-gunned and drowned – broadsheet bigotry is more insidious, snobbish and masked by a veneer of liberalism and intellectualism” commented one respondent.
A number of respondents cited examples of bigotry in the broadcast media.
“I think every outlet/ publication has some degree of a problem. BBC with the N-word and not understanding where / when to use or when to apologise, papers and in their tone of race, debates on TV about BLM,” said one respondent.
Many readers also drew a link between racism or racial bias in the media and attitudes in society as a whole commenting that the press reflects British society.
“Racial bias is in play across all UK media. It is endemic, systemic and deeply engrained as it is in society as a whole,” commented a respondent.
A large number of responses underlined the lack of diversity in newsrooms and how this leads to racial bias in media coverage.
“Most newsrooms lack the diversity and checks and balances when it comes to stories that concern minorities,” wrote one respondent.
“I think there is a lack of diversity in journalism across the board, be that gender identity, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Therefore, however hard we try, there are always going to be unconscious biases that are at play,” commented another.
Several other respondents were keen to point out that individual journalists were rarely racist.
“I think much of the bigotry or racism may be unconscious. The newsrooms I have been in are unfailingly white, the boardrooms I have sat in have been exclusively white (and male). Life experience is a huge influence on reporting, from story ideas all the way through to story placement and treatment. The homogeneous make-up of the workforce cannot help but have an impact. That said, most journalists I know are liberal to a fault and understand race politics better than most.”
Who filled out the survey?
While the poll sample was self-selecting, with readers choosing whether to take part, it still contained a large cross-section of responses from across the industry and beyond.
Respondents were anonymous but confined to verified Press Gazette email subscribers – with each subscriber only allowed to fill out the survey once.