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Press Awards nominations reflect industry’s poor diversity

PRESS AWARDS: Only a handful of BAME journalists have been shortlisted this year

WHILE MAINSTREAM newsrooms around the UK have been celebrating the release of the National Press Awards shortlist today (Feb 19), many black and minority ethnic (BME) journalists have lamented the lack of representation.

Some papers have received dozens of nominations but not one black female journalist has been nominated for a Press Award and the inclusion of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) journalists as a whole is strikingly low against the backdrop of 157 individual entrants. It is understood that just three BAME journalists are among those shortlisted.

Speaking to The Voice, Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, which organises the Press Awards, said: “The society has recognised and plays it’s part as much as possible in trying to promote diversity throughout the whole of the UK media. We recognise there is still a challenge there, the industry recognises there is a challenge there.”

Murray described the ethnic makeup of the nominations as a reflection of the industry at the point in time.

In 2016, research by City University of London found that the British press was 94 per cent white and 55 per cent male. And despite diversity initiatives and black talent, progress has been staggeringly slow.

The society encourages newsrooms and judges to think about the wider landscape of journalism when they are nominating and deciding on shortlists, but it does not influence the shortlist outside providing guidelines.

“We encourage journalists from all backgrounds to come forward and to enter if they feel that they should be there and encourage their newspapers, the national press, to put forward candidates or to encourage members of their staff that they think have done good work to come forward,” Murray said.

But despite the society’s efforts, the society's executive director admitted he was disappointed with the extent of ethnic diversity on the shortlist.

“Are we disappointed with the breakdown? Not in the sense of the individuals, [but] are we disappointed when it comes to taking a step back and seeing about the diversity when it came through to the shortlist? Yes, we are. We are because it still reflects that there is a huge challenge there for the media to tackle going forward,” he said.

Murray was not able to comment on the ethnic diversity of the judging panel – there are around 90 judges, the majority of whom are put forward by the industry – but said they come from a broad background. However, some have argued that the makeup of the judges needs addressing too.

Elizabeth Pears, news editor at BuzzFeed UK, wrote on Twitter: “Even in the same year that the Society of Editors introduced an award for reporting diversity, the number of people shortlisted who aren't white remains infuriatingly depressing. Three [people] out of 156 individual entries? Some editors should be embarrassed, but I doubt are they are.

“PS I judged two categories this year. I think it's important to see more diversity of thought in the judging room too.”

Tobi Oredein, the co-founder of Black Ballad, also expressed her disappointment at the list on Twitter. She wrote: “The lack of diversity at this year’s [Press Awards] is disgusting.

“I’m very tired of some journalists being quiet on this. Black and brown journalists can’t be left to do all the work. We aren’t even the room.”

In terms of how the lack of diversity could be addressed, Murray said the society would “look at all areas” but that he would not say for certain that creating awards which specifically targeted nominations from journalists of BAME backgrounds was a route the Society of Editors would go down.

This year has already seen a new award, Reporting Diversity, seek to address the lack of recognition of journalism, and journalists, that report on various aspects of diversity.

“I would prefer very much to see that there is much more diverse newsrooms and therefore that feeds into much more diverse entrants coming into the awards and that then is reflected in the nominations that basically come through,” Murray said.

Murray added that there are “no simple solutions” but that the society believed it had created the fairest system for judging and have gone even further than ever before to motivate the industry to do better.

“The society, we believe that we have created the fairest system for judging. We’ve gone even further than we have in the past to encourage both the entrants, newspapers and then the judges themselves to do everything that can be done but keeping within that framework...at the end of the day it’s merit that wins out. It’s the best talent that is chosen by the judges,” he said.

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