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#PasstheMic - a week in Scotland's news

by Professor Karen Boyle and Melody House at the University of Strathclyde, and Talat Yaqoob founder of Pass the Mic.

Pass the Mic is a project focusing on women of colour in Scottish news media. Initially an online database of women of colour experts, thanks to funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, from 2020-21 the project has expanded to undertake direct work with women of colour experts and media partners STV, The Herald, Sunday National, Daily Record, Scotsman, Courier and Holyrood magazine to challenge exclusionary cultures within news media and create a platform for the expertise of women of colour. This funding has also enabled them to undertake research to establish baseline information about where women of colour currently appear in Scottish news media in partnership with Gender Equal Media Scotland.

Read the previous blogs in the series here:

As in any news monitoring study, it’s useful to preface our findings by reflecting on the biggest stories of the week in question (9 – 15 November 2020) as they may produce distinctive patterns in findings.

Firstly, the issues we anticipated.

In setting up our study, there were a number of stories we suspected would have prominence. It will come as no surprise to know that coronavirus was one of these. Here, we followed the strategy adopted by the Global Media Monitoring Project in 2020: we coded separately if a story was about COVID or not, and then coded the story topic independent of this. For example, a story about the extension of the furlough scheme and a story about the vaccine would both be noted as COVID stories, but the former would additionally be coded as “economy” and the vaccine story as “science and health”. (Indeed the announcement of the Pfizer vaccine was one of the big stories in our coding week.) In total 39.3% of stories in our sample were about COVID and the continued coverage of the First Minister’s daily briefings clearly had an impact on our findings.

There were three other issues we anticipated could have a distorting effect: the US Presidential election; Brexit and Diwali. As with COVID, to help us account for the first two issues, we coded separately whether or not a story was about the US Presidential election or Brexit. However, neither occupied a major position in our sample – 4.4%of stories were about the US election, 2.4% about Brexit – although given the historic election of Kamala Harris, a woman of colour, as Vice President of the US this is still worth noting.

Diwali (which was celebrated on 14 November, within our sample week) we did not expect to be a major story, but even so we were surprised by just how little attention it received, particularly as the potential impact of COVID-restrictions on Christmas celebrations was already being widely considered. Stories mentioning Diwali barely accounted for 0.5% of our sample, and over one-third of these stories were on television. Some of our news sources did not mention Diwali at all: on web, twitter or in print. We hope to discuss this more fully in a later blog.

Secondly, there were three stories which we didn’t anticipate which are worth noting as they had a particular significance for the representation of people of colour. One of the leading stories in the Scottish Daily Mail across several days in our sample was whether Martin Bashir had obtained his 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana by deception. The emphasis on Bashir meant that men of colour were represented in the “media professional” occupational category more than might have been expected. The extensive coverage of the launch show of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (featuring a number of people of colour) and the COVID-related withdrawal of Katya Jones and Nicola Adams from Strictly Come Dancing are reflected in the concentration of women of colour in celebrity and sports occupational categories. That these stories can skew the picture does point to the overall marginalisation of women of colour in the Scottish news media landscape, as we go on to discuss.

The death of Peter Sutcliffe – who murdered 13 women in Yorkshire between 1975-1981 – was a major story towards the end of our sample week. Sutcliffe’s known victims included one woman of colour.

Finally, Scotland’s men’s football team had a crucial Euros qualifier against Serbia on 12 November, which they won, taking Scotland’s men to their first major tournament in over 20 years. This led to a far greater presence of sport as news than might have been expected, but from our perspective these stories were still fascinating in the way they constructed ideas about national identity. It was notable, for instance, that although all news outlets featured extensive reaction to the result from prominent Scots from various fields, there were no women of colour featured in these discussions. This is something we hope to explore more fully in a future blog.

So with all these caveats in mind, what can the numbers actually tell us about women of colour in the Scottish news media? Well that’s the subject of our next blog...

Read the next blogs in the series here:

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