It comes after former director Ian Murray drew criticism for disputing claims made by Meghan Markle that negative coverage of her relationship with Prince Harry was motivated by her skin colour
The trade body that represents British newspapers has withdrawn its claim that the UK media is not racist or bigoted, following six months of pressure from journalists of colour who said it did not reflect their experiences in the industry.
The Society of Editors vowed to “lead from the front” to make British newsrooms more diverse and said it would no longer stand by statements made in March by its former director Ian Murray.
Mr Murray drew criticism for disputing claims made by Meghan Markle that negative coverage of her relationship with Prince Harry was motivated by her skin colour.
The Society initially responded to claims of racism in the media levelled by Harry and Meghan with a statement insisting the UK media is “not bigoted” and “would not be swayed from its vital role in holding the rich and powerful to account”.
Mr Murray stepped down in March following public outcry at his comments, which were backed by certain figures in the media but disputed by others. The subsequent row led to his resignation.
Dawn Alford, who took up the role of executive director last month, said it has since been her “priority to listen and understand” what is being done around industry diversity and how to move forward.
In a statement, Ms Alford said she had held several meetings with industry figures, including with Guardian journalist Haroon Siddique – who organised an open letter signed by more than 120 journalists of colour critiquing the Society’s response to Markle’s claims. The letter decried what it claimed was a lack of “genuine commitment to atoning for its insulting and ham-fisted blanket denial of racism”.
Ms Alford has now formally retracted the claims and said Mr Murray’s comments did not “reflect the complex, challenging and changing processes that all society – including the media – is experiencing”.
“We also acknowledge the concerns of journalists of colour who have discussed with us issues they have experienced, whether those problems are due to a lack of diversity in their workplace, career progression to senior levels, or facing hurdles in reporting stories and shaping the news agenda,” she said.
However, Alford claimed that that the UK media has “a proud record of calling out racism and we also acknowledge that the UK media has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity, or influence.”
She added: “We are not a watchdog for the industry, but we can ensure that, as a membership organisation, we ignite conversations and offer support to everyone working to improve diversity and inclusion in the newsroom. I would also like to make it totally clear – the Society of Editors is 100% against all forms of racism.”
The Society of Editors represents local newspapers and national titles, and campaigns for the freedom of the press. It has more than 400 members, including editors and managing editors of national newspapers.
According to a study by the Office of National Statistics Labour Force Survey, non-white journalists comprise just 8 per cent of journalists in the British media, compared with 12 per cent of the general workforce.