From COVID-19 to protests: media diversity would change the narrative for BME people

George Floyd couldn’t have imagined that a simple trip to the supermarket would end up with him dying, or that the manner of his death would be so horrifying that it would trigger the world into marching for black civil rights – again.

Bring more diverse talent into the media and the black and ethnic minority narrative will change for the better, argues Loreen Fraser-Owusu
Bring more diverse talent into the media and the black and ethnic minority narrative will change for the better, argues Loreen Fraser-Owusu

Once more, the dangers of shopping, jogging, driving or merely existing ‘while black’ are, rightfully, getting global attention.

But not everyone wants to talk about racial inequalities.

In fact, most people feel that racial inequalities don't really exist anymore. With much discussion over the past few weeks about lack of BME representation in the PR sector, it’s equally important to look at the lack of representation in the media, how the media continues to get the black and ethnic minority narrative so wrong – and why.

I moved to the UK from Ghana aged nine and, even at that age, I distinctly remember feeling that being black wasn’t considered a good thing, primarily through the way I saw us portrayed in the media and the astoundingly ignorant questions I would be asked, such as: "Does everyone live in mud huts?"

Not to mention the only time you saw Africa on TV was news reports of famine or war and charity ads featuring malnourished children covered in flies.

Over the years, the depictions and narratives have continued to be mostly told about us and not by us; through the lens of a predominantly colonial framework that doesn’t really reflect us.

Think about how many stories of black rappers, athletes or black youth involved in knife crime you’ve seen.

Now think about how many TV series you’ve watched which dramatise African royalty or histories other than slavery.

Let’s also scrutinise how the media reports events, such as the recent coverage of protesters, using contrasting language when the story involves different ethnic groups.

While I understand the fear and anger that a second wave of COVID could be triggered by the Black Lives Matter protests, less was made of the thousands of people who took to beaches and parks after the Government kind-of said we were now free to go out, but didn’t actually say that lockdown was over.

The headlines: ‘People flock to English beaches as coronavirus lockdown eases’. This compared with: ‘Protests risk spreading COVID-19’.

The Black Lives Matter protests were sometimes described as riots, while the thugs who made Nazi salutes, chanted racist slurs and violently attacked the police were described as ‘far right counter-protesters’.

The journalist-PR relationship is a symbiotic one where, collaboratively, we can tell some really powerful stories through some of the most insightful thought-leaders in any industry.

We manage to do this for corporate storytelling and need to work harder at some of the personal narratives that involve ethnic minorities, by actively including BME content-creators and writers.

Real action needs to go beyond pledges because, while the media and PR landscape continues to be made up of the same group of people and remains unrepresentative of our diverse society, we’ll continue to see these issues.

Loreen Fraser-Owusu is a senior account manager at Wimbart

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