Last week, Women in Journalism hosted a discussion about the issues that women of colour usually “whisper about to each other”.
Chaired by Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish), the speakers included BBC journalist Megha Mohan, Victoria Sansui of BuzzFeed, recent freelance journalist Aisha Gani and Financial Times science writer Anjana Ahuja. The event took place at the Met Building with the support of media law firm Wiggin.
“Women of colour bring the real stories” said Megha, who kicked off with an important example as to why the industry needs to let underrepresented groups have their voice. She said, “I was prepared to fight to give a lady, who wasn’t a journalist, but had access to a big story and spoke the language. We weren’t just going to take her ideas and contacts from her and do the story ourselves. She had to be the one to present it.”
Aisha, who is actually reporting in Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugee crisis in March, raised the point that “being on the ground from a certain background you can ask questions no else will.”
Big name outlets dubbed as “the pinnacle of journalism” send reporters out on jobs who “have no idea of how the majority of people in this country live.”
This was felt strongly by all speakers and audience alike, who were disappointed at the lack of white allies present at the discussion.
Representation matters, “when I was younger I thought I wouldn’t be hired as a journalist” said Victoria. Change is slow but with “support networks” and POC run outlets such as gal-dem and Black Ballad things are looking better.
The conversation shifted to diversity in the newsroom, with Afua stressing that “outlets want to say they are diverse but don’t want to accommodate the diversity in perspective.”
This was the reality of many liberal publications who despite their reputation sometimes “don’t have any POC in the room” claimed Afua.
Megha argued that “I want the industry to accommodate so that we can be ourselves as opposed to trying to fit into an industry that’s 94% white and 54% male.”
On being pigeonholed, all the speakers agreed it was their “duty” to give their communities a voice. Aisha pointed out the paradox of authenticity amongst BAME reporters. “If I’m not doing it where else will you find these stories? It is important you report things on your own terms.”
But Anjana has been selfish and told her editor’s she did not want to cover a story on race, “the industry needs to understand that Asian and black experiences are not the same.”
“I was sent to Bradford to go to speak to Muslim community but I have a Hindi name. I still went and wrote 5000 words but none of it was published.”
“You don’t have to carry the burden of representing anyone and I don’t think editors understand that” said Aisha.
Her advice to aspiring WOC journalists was empowering. She said, “we shouldn’t feel grateful for being in the industry. We deserve to be there because we have access and knowledge they need.”
Aisha argued that POC should not have to be exceptional, or prove that they have gone through “trauma” when someone else’s experience is “enough”.
The event concluded with the need to fix the retention problem amongst BAME staff, taking on more journalists from underrepresented groups to change the culture and more “happy stories” on BAME groups to show that “we are multifaceted”.