Media industry body, the Society of Editors (SoE), faced criticism on Tuesday after the organisation said that racism was never a factor in coverage of the Duchess of Sussex.
Some members of its board are said to be “deeply angry” over a statement it put out and more than 160 journalists of colour, including the editors of the Guardian, Financial Times and HuffPost have objected to the statement, written by the SoE’s executive director, Ian Murray, which argued that Meghan’s claims that parts of the media were racist were “not acceptable”.
In unseen footage, Prince Harry is said to have called the UK press "bigoted, specifically the tabloids.”
The Society of Editors rubbished the claim, saying: “The UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account following the attack on the press by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Executive director Ian Murray added: “It is not acceptable for the Duke and Duchess to make such claims without providing any supporting evidence.
“If it is simply the case the Sussexes feel that the press by questioning their actions and commenting on their roles when working as royals funded by the taxpayer were being racist then they are mistaken.
“In the case of Meghan Markle and her engagement and marriage to Prince Harry there was universal supporting coverage in the UK media which reflected the warmth shown to the couple by the British people.
“But that warmth could not and should not mean the press should be expected to refuse to report, investigate and comment on the couple’s lifestyle and actions.
“The UK media has a proud record of calling out racism and also being at the forefront of campaigns to support mental health awareness, another of the issues raised by the couple.”
Mr Murray said it is “unreasonable” for the couple to “conflate the legitimate coverage provided by the edited and regulated UK media with the wild west of social media.”
He added: “It is strange indeed, that the couple have attacked the UK media previously for alleged intrusion into their private lives yet have opened up on several occasions to media in the US, the latest event being yesterday’s interview with Oprah Winfrey which will play to a world-wide audience.
“The UK media has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity or influence. If sometimes the questions asked are awkward and embarrassing, then so be it, but the press is most certainly not racist.”
Following the backlash, discussions were under way over the publication of a new statement intended to address the concerns. There has been no formal confirmation about when it will be released as there is an ongoing debate over the wording of that statement, with a dispute over the phrasing of a possible apology and some urgently demanding a clear change in tone.
The SoE draws members from nearly 400 national and regional outlets and says that while its members “are as different as … the communities and audiences they serve”, they “share the values that matter”.
Murray’s statement was immediately the subject of controversy on social media and in private, with many disagreeing with the defence of the industry.
Earlier, the organisation’s board was divided on whether it was an appropriate reaction. There were also questions about why it had been released when it was not approved by the board. Although another member pointed out that statements were routinely issued without approval.
Sathnam Sanghera, a columnist at the Times said that it pained her to say that the industry has been in denial about its institutional racism for all the two decades she has been in it.
HuffPost UK editor, Jess Brammar, wrote: “I’m aware I won’t make myself popular with my peers but I’m just going to stand up and say it: I don’t agree with statement from my industry body that it is ‘untrue that sections of UK press were bigoted’.”
Meanwhile, ITV News anchor Charlene White has dropped out of hosting the National Press Awards as a result of the statement.
White, also a panellist on the ITV show Loose Women, told the society’s executive director, Ian 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.”