First black British TV news presenter

Happy New Year!

I wanted to start 2017 on this blog by writing about my own profession – journalism. If you’ve read the Why create this blog? page, you’ll know that I started this website as part of my MA in International Journalism and now I am writing my dissertation for the course, for which I have decided to research the lack of diversity in the British media and how this is contributing to black Britons creating their own ways to make their voices heard.

Anyway, during the course of my dissertation research I am obviously looking into the history of black people in British media and I came across the surprising news to me, which I wanted to share, that the first black TV news presenter in the UK was not Sir Trevor McDonald or Moira Stuart as I grew up believing but was, in fact, Barbara Blake Hannah.

If you’ve never heard the name before then I am sure you are not alone!

Hannah is a journalist from Jamaica and in the Guardian she set the record straight about her short stint as the pioneering black face for news on British TV in 1968. She writes that she was “appointed one of three on-camera reporters on Thames-TV’s daily evening show, Today with Eamonn Andrews”, in a role that involved interviewing all of the high-profile personalities at the time.

Unfortunately her appearance on TV was relatively short-lived as the producers came under pressure from racists to have her removed, so nine months after her debut her contract was terminated.

Of course her efforts were not in vain though as five years later, in 1973, Sir Trevor made it on to our screens followed not long afterwards by Ms Stuart, and no amount of ignorance was going to stop black people from pursuing journalism careers and making a contribution to the fourth estate after that ball had started rolling.

Hannah later worked for ATV-Birmingham and then BBC-TV’s ‘Man Alive’ before returning to Jamaica in 1972. She has since gone on to have a successful career as a writer and film-maker in the Caribbean.

So now that I am working on my dissertation I have to admit that I am, perhaps naively, actually quite surprised at the lack of diversity in the British media. According to the most recent figures from City University in December 2015 – journalists in the UK are 94% white and 55% male.

How this has come about is a bit of a mystery to me as black people are much better represented in areas which you might think would easily cross over with media, such as the entertainment industry and sport, but for reasons which I hope to explore in my dissertation there are just not many of us working in TV, radio, newspaper or online newsrooms as writers, producers or editors. And of course even fewer in the top echelon and decision-making positions.

I think I’ve said before on this blog that when I was growing up and I decided to be a journalist, my main inspirations were white TV reporters such as Kate Adie and Martin Bell – mainly because I wanted to be a war correspondent – and I never really considered their colour, or whether there were many black journalists or if journalism was a profession that black people could succeed in. I just knew that I wanted to write and tell stories.

However, I hope you’ll agree that it is worrying in a multi-cultural society, when one of its most important and influential sectors does not represent a large proportion of its people, and it does not take a rocket scientist to see the issues around discrimination and marginalisation this might cause now and in the future.

Anyway, I will keep posting on here are much as possible while I study and of course if you have any ideas about black, British people who should feature on the site then I’d be glad to hear about it.

I wish you all a peaceful, happy and prosperous 2017.

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