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Claudia Jones lecture 2016: Fatima Manji on why it matters that Muslims are journalists

3 November 2016

Fatima Manji does not want to be identified by "an old-fashioned race row with an old-fashioned dinosaur", but that was what flung the Muslim Channel 4 news presenter into the limelight and made her a huge draw as the keynote speaker at the NUJ's annual Claudia Jones lecture.

Fatima had been condemned by Kelvin MacKenzie in The Sun for wearing a hijab while reporting the news of the July massacre in Nice. He said: “Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?”

The NUJ came to her defence and Fatima and Channel 4, plus 2,000 others, complained to the press regulator IPSO, which sided with MacKenzie saying: “While the columnist’s opinion was undoubtedly offensive to the complainant, and to others, these were views he had been entitled to express.”

Fatima knew exactly what the former Sun editor was doing. "It was incitement to hatred," she told the packed event held at Channel 4's headquarters.

But she wasn't there to talk about MacKenzie. Introduced by Marc Wadsworth, chair of the NUJ's Black Members' Committee, Fatima's thoughtful speech, titled On the Representation and Participation of People of Colour in the British Media, focused on journalists exploring  the "deep-rooted prejudices that shape what we produce and who produces it".

She started by praising the black activist and journalist Claudia Jones and the way she challenged the structural forces of racism and sexism. More than 50 years after her death, things have changed: "Gone are the days when newsrooms were exclusively white. Now, it’s only 94 percent," she said.

Research had shown, she said, that the worst-represented group was Muslims. Almost 5 per cent of the British population is Muslim, and yet only 0.4 per cent of journalists are.

Asking why this mattered, she said:

"The case has been made many times for our media to reflect the population it serves. But there’s something even more important at stake. Just think about the number of stories involving Muslims. Newsrooms need credible journalists from Muslim backgrounds who are familiar with the complexities of their faith, who understand the nuances of a theological debate and journalists who are in touch both with the intellectual tradition and also with grassroots communities."

She also warned about the "lexicon of diversity":

"The sceptical young journalists I know see diversity as the language of offering a darker hued version of the same thing. They’re interested in difference, not diversity; especially in hearing and projecting differences of thought, both in their own work and their colleagues'."

Some of her examples of everyday prejudice for journalists of colour were depressing, such as the Muslim woman journalist who was told when entering a corporate building: “Sorry, we’re letting in only journalists at the moment.”  But most of the audience left the evening feeling positive and inspired by her talk and were impressed by the strength she has  shown in making a stand against the Kelvin MacKenzies of the media world.

Fatima's lecture: On the Representation and Participation of People of Colour in the British Media,

Video of the event

Tags: , claudia jones, racism, fatima manji, kelvin mackenzie, channel 4, equality, diversity, media reform