Jess Brammar, former editor-in-chief of HuffPost UK and frontrunner for the job of overseeing the BBC’s news channels, has been hounded by parts of the right-wing media in recent days. Why? For being anti-racist.
It was recently alleged by the Financial Times that Sir Robbie Gibb, who became a non-executive director at the BBC in May and was Theresa May’s communications chief, attempted to stop Jess from being appointed to the key editorial role within the BBC.
One person involved in the appointment process alleged that some of Gibb’s concerns relate to Jess’s defence of me, a Black journalist, following a series of tweets sent by equalities minister Kemi Badenoch earlier this year when I was working at HuffPost UK. Badenoch described me as “creepy and bizarre” for asking a question about a Covid-19 vaccine video, after which I was subjected to online abuse and nuisance calls.
Jess did nothing wrong in her handling of this debacle, besides holding the government to account and standing by her colleague, as any decent editor would do. She filed a formal complaint to the Cabinet Office, which was eventually rejected after Downing Street distanced itself from Badenoch’s actions and lauded my work.
Elements of the right-wing press and political blog Guido Fawkes have all targeted Jess since news of her BBC bid broke, attempting to pick her apart. This campaign included trawling through her private Instagram posts.
Using headlines such as, “Appointment of culture warrior to head BBC News incompatible with impartial BBC”, these platforms have repeatedly tried, and failed, to secure evidence of Jess’ supposed left-wing views, in order to justify the notion that she’s unfit for the role at the BBC, while also fuelling the ongoing culture war and violating her right to a private life.
The Telegraph ran a piece on Monday with the headline: “Front-runner for top BBC news job railed against Boris Johnson and Brexit in now-deleted tweets.” They marked it as an exclusive. Firstly, there’s absolutely nothing exclusive about old tweets. Secondly, she didn’t “rail” against anything.
In these tweets, Jess remarks on the racism in the UK, fact checks Boris Johnson, and comments on Brexit. None of these tweets express a specific political view, as far as I can see.
Jess also recommended the purchase of a book about British imperialism by Sathnam Sanghera “to piss off all the racists having a go at him”; it’s strange that The Telegraph would take exception to this when it published a positive review of the same book, lauding it as an “eye-opening history”, just a few months ago.
In December 2019, referring to an article I wrote, which said “black Brits” were “genuinely considering leaving the UK because of the level of racism, particularly if Boris Johnson wins”, Jess added that: “It won’t be a surprise to people who live this reality every day, and in admitting my shock I show my ignorance as a white woman.”
I can confirm that the article was factual and based upon the lived experiences of Black people. Jess, as a white woman, said she was shocked by the revelations. I see no controversy here.
The resounding message behind the attempted vilification of Jess seems to be this: being anti-racist is abhorrent and could potentially harm your career.
Meanwhile some gatekeepers across the same UK media sphere that presides over articles like this continue to swear that racism does not plague parts of the industry. Imagine! This would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous.
If taking a stand against anti-Black racism can get a white professional such as Jess into this much hot water, imagine how Black people fare. Many people within marginalised communities hold this view and have discussed the matter among ourselves in our safe spaces.
Similar can be said for Guto Harri who just resigned from GB News after being suspended, without proper justification in my opinion, for taking the knee live on air.
As writer Nels Abbey surmised, these two cases give a very good idea of why Black unemployment runs at triple the rate of white unemployment in the UK. Yet every year we continue to see panels, glib pontification mixed with often faux concern, about the state of diversity in journalism. Just 0.2 per cent of journalists are Black.
If senior journalists can use their position to amplify the work of ethnic minority colleagues, it would help to improve diversity across the British journalism industry. Yet if the treatment of Jess by sections of the media ends up costing her this opportunity, it would illustrate that, even today, being anti-racist can be damaging for your career. This is not only worrying, it’s ludicrous.
It is now incumbent upon the industry, and moreover every right-thinking member of society, to call out the treatment of Jess Brammar by parts of the UK media for what it is: bullying. There is no other word for it.