Ian Murray steps down amid backlash over his article criticising duchess’s claims of UK media bigotry
The executive director of the Society of Editors has resigned after a rolling series of withdrawals from the National Press Awards over claims that there is no racism in the press made his position untenable.
Ian Murray, executive director of the SoE, issued a statement saying he was stepping down from his position on Wednesday evening. It came amid growing pressure after host Charlene White’s withdrawal was followed by a string of nominees saying they did not wish to be considered at the ceremony.
“Since the statement was issued, the SoE has been heavily criticised,” Murray said. “While I do not agree that the society’s statement was in any way intended to defend racism, I accept it could have been much clearer in its condemnation of bigotry and has clearly caused upset.
“As executive director, I lead the society, and as such must take the blame, and so I have decided it is best for the board and membership that I step aside so that the organisation can start to rebuild its reputation.”
Murray said he was stepping aside “with a heavy heart”, adding he was “proud” of the SoE’s work “defending media freedom over the three years I have been at the helm, as well as the initiatives we have created and continue to create on diversity in the newsroom”.
Alison Gow, SoE president, thanked Murray for his contribution and praised his work as a campaigner on journalistic rights and freedoms. She added: “The society is committed to representing all journalists and upholding journalism; I am clear on what our mission must be, and we will strive as an organisation to listen and hear everyone’s views, and be strong advocates and allies for all those we represent.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the directors of the society had issued a new statement, saying that Murray’s response to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview, headlined “UK media not bigoted”, “did not reflect what we all know: that there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion”.
But with even some members of the board saying they felt the situation was “ludicrous” and made them “very angry”, that proved insufficient to draw a line under the story. Many, including some of the 236 journalists of colour from the Guardian, Metro, the New York Times, the BBC and others, who signed an open letter expressing their dismay, said that the move was too little too late.
It is understood that several members of the board spoke to Murray on Wednesday. One said that the decision became inevitable after people began abandoning awards – a key source of funding for the industry body. Another said the move was necessary because of “anger and dismay at damage to the society, and our industry” but that finances were not a factor.
White, an ITV news anchor, was the first person to withdraw from the Awards ceremony, saying in a message to Murray: “Perhaps it’s best for you to look elsewhere for a host for your awards this year. Perhaps someone whose views align with yours: that the UK press is the one institution in the entire country who has a perfect record on race.”
Rachel Oldroyd, editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism – which was the first outlet to withdraw nominees from the awards over the controversy – said: “This is not about an individual, but about us all helping our industry bring about the change it clearly needs. We cannot begin to make those changes if we don’t face the problems that are there. Perhaps we could start by appointing a person of colour to run the Society of Editors.” She said the Bureau of Investigative Journalism as yet had no plans to restore its entries.
Then Aasma Day, the north of England correspondent at HuffPost, withdrew her entry from the Reporting Diversity category, saying the statement “makes a total mockery of this award”, and the Yorkshire Post withdrew its nominations in the overall categories.
Others angered by the statement suggested that it was not nominees for the awards who should be required to act. “My view is that Ian Murray is the one who needs to withdraw his ridiculous statement,” said Stephen Bush, political editor of the New Statesman. “It shouldn’t fall on nominees to have to withdraw.”
The SoE will now hope that Murray’s departure will be seen as an indication of how seriously the issue has been taken – and will encourage those who withdrew to return to the shortlists.
Murray had said on Monday that the statements made by Harry and Meghan about the press were “not acceptable” and made without “supporting evidence”, insisting that the UK media “has a proud record of calling out racism”. In the piece headlined “UK media not bigoted”, he said the tone of tabloid coverage was simply driven by “holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity or influence”.
In the later statement, the board – not Murray – said the SoE would “reflect on the reaction our statement prompted and work towards being part of the solution”.