Campaign and Conscience:
WHAT IS THE BLACK BRITISH PRESS FOR?
Privately Black editors and journalists complain about the slavery of the racially divided media industry and society. Yet year after year they resist all reform efforts that would liberate them to pursue their historic purpose. We show you where the fault-lines are and the path to recovery
Writing about race and the media a decade ago, I held up the weekly Black press as one of the major ethnic presses in Britain. Its militant and intellectual history is impressive.
Black editors “speak to Black people” out of a history of anti-slavery protest in the colonies and London. That’s what Ionie Benjamin says in her highly regarded examination of “The Black Press in Britain” from 1901 (Trentham Books).
Black press credentials are impressive. Dr Harold Moody’s newsletter/paper, The Keys, listed Black, radical, pan-africanist and freedom fighters among his writers and supporters in the 1930s; it included the West Indians, the left-wing C L R James and the socially-conscious cricketer Learie Constantine and the African liberationists Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta.
In the 1950s, Communist stalwart, the Trinidadian Claudia Jones, rallied Black activists, migrants, students and workers and artists and their white and Asian allies in a hardy band of comrades. They launched protests against the racist murder of Kelso Cochrane, the Stephen Lawrence of that era, and Jones went on to start the joyous multi-racial Notting Hill carnival that attracts over a million revellers and spectators every year.
However, I have some misgivings now. Critics say the ownership of the main post-war UK titles, The Voice and New Nation, fall way short of the lofty aims of their predecessors.
Owners are conservative and distantly controlled, as is the case of the Voice, now owned by the Jamaican Gleaner once the mouthpiece of white planters. Or, editorial direction and ownership are lost in a conglomerate of competing ethnic titles such as the Ethnic Media Group, publishers of the Asian Eastern Eye as well as the New Nation.
It is also troubling that the Black press is seen as merely purveyors of Black victim-hood, suggests Lester Holloway, the new editor of the New Nation.
Others add, there are too many pages of pouting, butt-shaking celebrities and never, with very few exceptions, a reasoned editorial piece written by a scholar or Black Public Intellectual.
Critics point to a number of crucial failings. Current marketing and advertising strategies need overhauling. Upgrading office environments and info-tech facilities are essential. Black newspaper managers must learn to use digital radio, television, cell phones and internet to attract Black consumers.
Business as usual is no longer an option. Contentment with the way things are and the lack of committed, independent Black owners are crippling barriers to innovative writing, reporting and leadership in the Black community.
Furthermore, allegiances to government, London boroughs advertisers on whose largesse they survive handcuff editors, who might otherwise be visionaries in the historical mould. Official Police, nursing, children, schools and family, diabetes, arts council and city development agencies are the sole advertising sources and top-income earners.
Coupled with this lack of financial independence, and without a solid base in Black communities, the future looks bleak. Trying to keep current readers and win more at a cover price people can or are willing to pay is a constant challenge.
Owners are unable to attract bright, young graduates of journalism schools. A social conscience is hard to feed on low salaries and poor working conditions. Furthermore, the brain drain of good Black writers and journalists to the mainstream press takes its toll.
Nevertheless, Black newspapers and magazines have their supporters. “Each identifies ideals and observes current trends. The debates about equal rights and Black identity take place on their pages,” says Benjamin.
Why? Because “The Black press are organs of resistance to the exclusion of Black people from power and their omission and stereotyping in the White media: says Benjamin. “They assert the equal of Black people…And they create and supply an identified market while also providing the training ground for Black journalists and entrepreneurs.’
After all, isn’t this what all the ethnic presses in Britain aim to do, be they Jewish, Italian, Irish, Muslim, Polish, or whatever?
Why not make up your own mind? Read a Black newspaper this week. High acheiving Black commuters from the leafy suburbs should grab one at a British Rail station. Here’s a rough guide to what you might read in the latest news and commentaries from The Voice printed editions.
Your views are welcome to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Voice, 2-8 June 2008
Cricket Opinion – “The greatest of cricketers in the history of the game emerged from Barbados. Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Frank Worrell, and Sir Clyde Walcott, some of the world’s greatest batsmen, lived within a half-mile radius of each in the heart of working class communities,” says Darcus Howe.
Say What? — “Black people are changing the world,” Letter of the Week.
Afro-Beauty – “Thousands of beauties and hunks turned out to be preened and pampered at Alexandra Palace for the 29th annual show”, reports Janelle Oswald
Religious media – Leading UK faith magazine, Keep the Faith, has published its first ever of Britain’s 10 most influential Black Christian women. The list includes top women in the YMCA, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and Anglican minister Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, recently appointed Chaplain to the Queen
Clairvoyants – “Famous African Leading Healer, Professor Imam, works with powerful spirits to help you out on marriage, jobs, evil spirits, family ties, bring back loved ones, exam worries, etc. Fluent in English, Spanish, Arabic and French. Call for an appointment now”. Advertisement.
Sports Hero Africa Bound – The pending trip to Lagos of Champion League winner Rio Ferdinand will attract thousands fans to line the streets. The visit will launch youth seminars and a Street Soccer tournament to stress the importance of sports and education, reports Leon Mann.
Editorial comment – “We are backing the anti-knives campaign. Youngsters are killing youngsters and the epidemic has to stop”.
“The Voice supports the government campaign to reduce the number of knives on Britain’s streets but the buck doesn’t stop with them.
“Parents need to do their jobs. Know where your child is, know what they are doing and most importantly’ know if they if they are the type of person that would carry, for WHATEVER reason.”
The Voice, 9 June – 15, 2008
Media safeguards for children — A media watchdog group has blasted dancehall music, claiming that its explicit lyrics and sexually suggestive dance moves are sending wrong messages about relationships to children.
From war to Windrush – The 60th anniversary of the arrival of post-war Caribbeans on the MV Empire Windrush in Britain in 1948 coincides with a tribute to West Indian men and women on the war front and the home front in the First and Second Wars. At the Imperial War Museum until 29 March 2009.
Bid for Black Magistrates — Forty graduates of a new scheme by Operation Black Vote a rights group, have been appointed magistrates across the country.
Stop the youth killings – Dramatically in London, June recorded its sixteenth murdered teenager and first female stabbing victim. (Across the UK, 29 young people (under 25 years old) have lost their lives.) Bishop Wayne Malcolm, founder of Christian Life City (CLC), plans to tackle gangs and knife and gun killings in the infamous “murder mile” in Clapton, east London. The question “What to do?” has baffled seasoned social workers. Black community worker, Ray Lewis, recently appoint deputy for youth to London’s new mayor says, “We are working to find solutions”.
Doors open – The Voice says: On the eve of the Obama Democratic presidential nomination, it’s useful to recall some Black firsts in Britain. Among them, Lord Bill Morris, the first Black leader of a British trade union (General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, 1991; Bernie Grant, Dianne Abbott and Paul Boateng first Black MPs, 1987; Linda Dobbs QC, first Black person to become a High Court judge, 2004; Baroness Patricia Scotland, first Black female Queen’s Counsel, 1991; and Baroness Valerie Amos, first Black woman appointed to the Cabinet.
Dads and sons — “Are men from the UK Black community playing a role in the lives of their children?” Statistics reported on Father’s Day 2008 reveal they are not. The Voice reports on the dads of USA Black sports star who broke stereotypes.
Editorial comment – “Obama is already a winner…. There is still a long way to go – battles to fight – in Obama’s bid to become president of the United States.
“However, it is worth acknowledging that he has already won a very important for Black people.
“By standing out, Obama…Obama has sown the seeds for other Black boys and girls to aspire to follow in his footsteps.”
You can read my earliest articles on race and the media in http://www.chronicleworld.org. (Scroll to and select Archive 01, and scroll to 5.211 What Colour is the News? See also 6.104 How militant journalists fought to enrich press reporting and employment for blacks is revealed in “From little acorns” by Mike Jempson
Copyright © Thomas L Blair 2008. The Chronicleworld.org is being archived by the British Library as a record of contemporary life today.