The British media’s treatment of Meghan Markle has given us clear examples of its poisonous nature. Her recent interview with Oprah highlighted articles and headlines that vilified Markle, with clear colonial and racist undertones.
Responses to the interview – in which Markle stated she “didn’t want to be alive any more” – show us just how cruel and damaging the British press is.
The interview opened broader conversations around the perpetuation of racism, the stigmatisation of mental health issues, and the vilification of marginalised communities by the British press.
Institutional racism in the British press
This isn’t the first time the press has worked to demonise and discredit a powerful Woman of Colour. We only need to look at the tabloid witch hunt against Diane Abbott. The media exists to set the national agenda. It works to shape public discourse and policies. A free and open press is central to a functioning democracy.
Britain’s mainstream media works to vilify minorities, and sets a racist, Xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, and ableist agenda.
Powerful tabloid journalists feel emboldened to call immigrants “cockroaches” and “feral humans”, while others are happy to talk about “the Muslim problem”. As this headline in the Times shows, it’s not just right wing tabloids that are the problem. The establishment press is also guilty. And these stories have real life consequences, fuelling prejudice and hate crimes.
The fact that the BBC thought it appropriate to use a racial slur in a news report, or that Nick Ferrari felt comfortable to tell Black British journalist Afua Hirsch that she should leave the country if she doesn’t like racism, shows us just how normalised racism is in the media.
Lack of newsroom and reporter diversity
Behind the headlines, the media is an elitist industry that discriminates against marginalised journalists. According to a 2017 study, around 94% of UK journalists are white. And while only 7% of the population have attended private school, more than half of ‘top’ journalists have.
Holding the press to account
The role of the press is to hold power to account. But who’s holding the press to account?
Piers Morgan storming off set when confronted by the only person of colour in the room, and the head of the Society of Editors minimising the reality of racism and bigotry in the British press shows us that the power behind the press still refuses to be held to account. If they won’t even acknowledge racism in the industry, how can we expect them to challenge it?
What can we do to challenge it?
The establishment press exists to maintain the status quo. A status quo that is failing most of us. Diversity schemes don’t work to bring about institutional change, and often expose marginalised journalists to toxic newsroom environments. So instead of supporting outlets that continue to deny marginalised people opportunities and a voice, we should support alternative, independent media, and platforms created for and by marginalised people.
It’s up to us to challenge an industry that has the power to fuel hate, legitimise the far-right agenda, and attack the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society.
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