Prominent journalists in the United Kingdom have dismissed claims by one of their own industry bodies that the British press does not have a problem with racism.
The objections, including a rebuke from the Guardian newspaper, come after the Society of Editors rejected allegations made by Prince Harry that racism had played a role in how the British press covered his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
The comments were made during an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey in which the couple opened up about the challenges of life inside the royal family. The media coverage “was bringing out a part of people that was racist,” Meghan said.
Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray said in a statement on Monday that it was “untrue” that sections of the UK press were bigoted. “It is not acceptable for the Duke and Duchess to make such claims without providing any supporting evidence,” he said, pointing to “universal supporting coverage” in the media of their marriage.
The Society of Editors has 400 members, mostly working journalists, and runs the Press Awards, the premier annual awards event in British journalism. The event was formerly called the British Press Awards.
“The UK media has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity or influence,” Murray said in the statement. “If sometimes the questions asked are awkward and embarrassing, then so be it, but the press is most certainly not racist.”
But several British journalists disputed that view.
“We disagree with the Society of Editors statement on the Meghan and Harry interview,” the Guardian said in a statement posted to its corporate account on Twitter on Tuesday.
“Every institution in the United Kingdom is currently examining its own position on vital issues of race and the treatment of people of colour. As I have said before, the media must do the same. It must be much more representative and more self-aware,” added editor-in-chief Katharine Viner.
Journalists cited a range of evidence to support their claims that Meghan had received racist coverage, including comparisons of favorable coverage afforded Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and statistics showing that UK newsrooms continue to struggle with diversity.
But compelling evidence can also be found in headlines run by major tabloids. One Mail Online headline declared in 2016 that Meghan was “(almost) straight outta Compton.” Around the same time, The Daily Star ran a headline asking whether Harry would “marry into gangster royalty?”
Sathnam Sanghera, a columnist at The Times newspaper and author of a recent book on how imperialism shaped Britain, said on Twitter that it “pains me to say that my industry has been in denial about its institutional racism.”
HuffPost UK editor-in-chief Jess Brammar said on Twitter she disagreed with the Society’s assertion that it is “untrue that sections of UK press were bigoted.”
And Anne Alexander, senior political producer for ITV’s “Good Morning Britain,” added that she was “still trying to process this ridiculous statement.”
“How can you possibly say that no part of the media is bigoted? It’s a partial reflection of society, which is in parts bigoted,” Alexander added.
Murray did not immediately respond to questions from CNN Business on Tuesday.