The Black Lives Matter movement has re-ignited a debate about structural racism, both in the UK and across the Atlantic. Protests which began over the unlawful killing of George Floyd have branched out into calls to learn from the past and dismantle systems of oppression.
But is our media helping to raise these issues accurately and frame the discussion in a frank and honest way? Or is it continuing to obstruct change, both in the way in reports on race and in the way it fails to promote black journalists and their stories? The Young Fabians Communications and BAME Advocacy Group are teaming up in an event which will reflect on the current Black Lives Matter protests in the US and UK and how the media industry needs to change.
We'll be speaking with two black journalists, LA-based freelance journalist Patrice Peck, and Hannah Ajala, a BBC journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria, about the current Black Lives Matter protests and the debates that have been thrown up on both sides of the Atlantic. We'll look at how the media industry must not only report on the debates currently raging, but reflect the changes taking place in wider society at the moment.
With pressures coming externally from movements seeking to tackle systemic racism and internally from black journalists pushing for the industry to report on race more accurately, it's clear that change is needed in the sector to more accurately and responsibly report on the changes happening in the US and in the UK.
WHEN: 6.30 - 7.30pm GMT
WHERE: To register for the Zoom call, please click here.
Patrice Peck is an LA-based freelance journalist with over 10 years experience at both media companies and start-ups. At the start of the pandemic in April, Patrice founded Coronavirus News for Black Folks, a weekly newsletter that circulates news and stories about how coronavirus is affecting the black diaspora. The newsletter talks specifically about gaps in media coverage, while talking about how the pandemic is impacting physical and mental health as well as social and cultural structures and institutions. Patrice currently freelances for Elle, LA Times, Teen Vogue and New York Times, where she recently wrote an op-ed on the exhaustion she has personally faced as a black journalist in an industry which fails to platform black journalists and platform black stories. Prior to this, Patrice worked at Buzzfeed, OkayAfrica and BET.
More about the event
In the US, debates about structural racism within newsrooms are raging. After the publication of Senator Tom Cotton's New York Times op-ed echoing President Trump's calls to "bring in the military" to quell protests, over 250 journalists staged a virtual walk out in protest, citing that the piece endangered black journalists working at the paper.
The publication of Senator Tom Cotton's op-ed, taken to its extreme, represents a media which is trying to balance what it sees as the concerns of white conservative readers with the burgeoning call for change that is being spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black journalists including Wesley Lowery and Oscar Jimenez, too, are at risk of police brutality
But while the tip of this spear may look different in the US and the UK, the root causes of structural racism and its effects are, largely, the same
As a former colony of the British Empire, it can be said that the US has learned how to oppress from its former coloniser, hardwiring structural racism into a system that was purposely built broken to disenfranchise black people. Often in the UK it's asserted in some quarters - particularly in some sections of the media - that enough change has happened, that any attempts to further redress the system are "political correctness gone mad".
Much of this ignores or glosses over the fact that systemic racism exists in British society today, and remains pervasive. From the myriad injustices meted out to the Windrush Generation, institutional racism at every rung of our criminal justice system, to the failure to implement recommendations from the recent report into why deaths among BAME communities are higher, it's clear that much more needs to be done.
But how can the media industry change to better report on race?
Currently the media industry is failing both to fund and support black journalists, but also to platform black stories. In the UK, 94% of the industry is white and 55% male; just 0.2% of all journalists in the UK are black.
As a result, not only are black journalists failing to get their voices and their stories heard in a predominantly white middle class industry, often editors fail to commission stories from black journalists when they land at their desks, fearing that they are not "relevant" to their audience.
The media should be able to capture the public's imagination and give an account of the changes happening in society in a fair and accurate way. With readers becoming more discerning, willing to fund news which is driven by journalists unafraid to speak their truths to power, the change now feels irreversible.
With advertising revenues dwindling as a result of the pandemic, now could be the chance for media outlets to rely also on passionate readers willing to pay for content instead of skittish advertisers.
With the Black Lives Matter movement leading the call to platform black voices, the media industry must do more to fund and support diversity in its rank to rise to this challenge.