Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I'd seen a hint once before that Denis Macshame had been involved in creating the NUJ Guidelines on Race Reporting but could never find definitive proof of it. Now I have. While rummaging through the Times Archive, I came across a letter he wrote to the paper (appearing in the September 18 1978 edition) admitting his authorship, part of which I reproduce above.

For the uninitiated, these guidelines have had a baneful effect on British democracy by establishing systematic censorship in the media about all matters related to immigration. As his name suggests, Macshame is one of the most despicable of all British politicians, a man who, prior to becoming a politician, was even sacked by the BBC for gross dishonesty.

Macshame's letter was written in response to an article by Bernard Levin on the new NUJ Guidelines on Race Reporting. It's good to see that Levin had him sussed even back then. Here's an extract from what he wrote (from the Times, September 15, 1978):
I never supposed that the question would arise, but since it has I might as well say at once that I do not much care to be told how to do my job as a journalist by a journalist who was sacked for professional misconduct, has been unable to find regular employment ever since, and at present lives on an ex gratia payment of £3,500 a year which comes out of the union subscriptions paid by me and my fellow members of the NUJ. (Our contribution to his upkeep is made on an involuntary basis, none of us, as far as I know, having been asked whether we feel thus generously inclined towards him, let alone given the opportunity to contract-out in favour of Oxfam or the RSPCA.) The fact that the gentleman in question is the present President of our union makes it worse, not better, and the fact that he doesn't know what protagonist means and spells Goebbels with one b and two ls does notthing to instil in me a feeling of confidence in his qualifications as an arbiter of journalistic standards and an instructor in their application.

The pamphlet MacShane referred to in the letter extract quoted above was called Black to Front. I may be the only person in the world who has ever ordered it from an antiquarian bookshop. It contained an early version of the guidelines quoted above (much of the text is still the same) as well as pages of advice on similar themes. The pamphlet was distributed to all members of the NUJ in the 1970s.

Macshame later made the following boast about it.
The first political pamphlet I ever wrote was in 1978. It revealed and denounced the indifference of British newspapers and television to the problems facing the black and Asian communities in the UK. It asked why there were no Afro-Caribbean or Asian broadcasters, reporters, news-readers or by-lines in our papers. I cited the anti-Semitism of the Daily Mail and Daily Express in the 1930s when they told readers that too many Jews were being allowed into Britain from Germany and that our small island could not face any more aliens arriving to disturb social harmony or compete for professional jobs. I argued that in some respects the media treatment of the then BME communities in the 1960s and 1970s had some similarities.
The pamphlet provoked outrage in the press. How dare this upstart young activist from the National Union of Journalists tell editors who they should and should not employ! How dare he insist that the racism and anti-Semitism of the National Front (1970s forerunner of today’s British National Party) should be exposed as pernicious evil! How dare he suggest that the xenophobia and attacks on Asians in the Daily Mail and Daily Express should be linked to those papers’ anti-Semitism of pre-war years! Bernard Levin devoted a whole column in The Times to trashing my pamphlet, denouncing my ‘Noddy language’ as unworthy of consideration.
Today everything has changed utterly and I feel vindicated. Some of our finest TV and press reporters and news stars are from the BME community and the appointment of community relations correspondents and investigation of the racism and discrimination that non-white British citizens face is now a norm.
Source: Jewish Quarterly

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