Charlene White steps down as awards host after press body’s race comments

Alex Green, PA Entertainment Reporter
·3-min read

ITV News presenter Charlene White will not host this year’s Society Of Editors’ Press Awards after the body came under fire for comments about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s accusations of racism.

The society released a strongly-worded statement following Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he alleged that the UK press is “bigoted”.

The organisation, which has almost 400 members in the UK across national, regional and local press, said it was “not acceptable” for the couple to make claims of racism in the press “without providing any supporting evidence”.

Oprah Winfrey interviews Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Finnbarr Webster/PA)

However, it later released another statement saying “there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion”.

White announced her decision to step away from the hosting role in a letter, which read: “Following your recent comments regarding race and the UK press, I have decided to no longer make myself available to present the Society Of Editors’ British Press Awards this month.

“A few years ago, your organisation approached me to become a judge for its awards and to work alongside you because at that time it was hugely lacking in terms of it being a fair reflection of the UK population. In other words, the nominations and winners list involved very few non-white journalists.

“This is not an unusual scenario unfortunately. Over the years several organisations have been held to account for eradicating and ignoring the work of ethnic minorities professionals – and women. So, you told me you wanted that to change. In fact, we spoke at length about it.

Oprah Winfrey interviews Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The press was criticised by Harry (Yui Mok/PA)

“But here’s the thing. I only work with organisations who practise what they preach. My time is precious, so I’d rather not waste it. Since the Black Lives Matter movement really took hold in the UK last year, every single institution in this country has had to finally look at its failings and its position in terms of how they treat ethnic minorities both inside and outside of its walls. But for some unknown reason, you feel as though the UK press is exempt in that discussion.”

White described herself as “a black woman who has consistently stood up for what she believes in, irrespective of the impact it would have on my career”.

She added: “So 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.”

The first black woman to present the ITV News At Ten, White, 40, joined ITN in 2008 after a number of senior positions at the BBC.

She became a regular presenter on ITV daytime show Loose Women following the departure of Andrea McLean earlier this year.

Oprah Winfrey interviews Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The interview was watched by millions around the world (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Society of Editors faced criticism in the wake of the Oprah interview after it denied the UK media is bigoted and the editors of the Guardian and Huff Post UK issued statements saying they did not agree with its position.

In response, the board issued a statement which said: “The Society of Editors has a proud history of campaigning for freedom of speech and the vital work that journalists do in a democracy to hold power to account.

“Our statement on Meghan and Harry was made in that spirit but 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.

“We will reflect on the reaction our statement prompted and work towards being part of the solution.”

The Press Awards, which celebrate the best of national journalism, are due to take place on March 31.