Ian Murray: who is the Society of Editors boss as he resigns over Meghan racism row - and what did he say?

Journalist quits amid backlash over his article defending the UK press after Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 1:05 pm

Ian Murray has resigned from his post as executive director of the Society of Editors (SoE).

Mr Murray stepped down from his position at the top of the SoE - an industry body for the UK press - after a row over its reaction to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s comments about racism in the media.

In a devastating interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry talked about press coverage the Duchess had received and stated that some British tabloids were “racist” and bigoted”.

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The SoE initially denied this “attack” and said such claims were “not acceptable” without providing evidence on Monday 8 March 2021, following the US airing of the Oprah interview on the evening of 7 March.

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Why did Ian Murray resign?

The SoE’s comments were widely criticised by editors of the Guardian, HuffPost UK and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, who released statements saying they did not agree with the society’s position.

In a devastating interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry talked about press coverage the Duchess had received and stated that some British tabloids were “racist” and bigoted”. (Pic: PA)

Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of Guardian News and Media, said on 9 March: “Every institution in the United Kingdom is currently examining its own position on vital issues of race and the treatment of people of colour.

“As I have said before, the media must do the same. It must be much more representative and more self-aware.”

HuffPost UK editor-in-chief Jess Brammar Tweeted to say she disagreed with the statement.

She wrote on 8 March: “I considered not saying anything about this because I’m aware I won’t make myself popular with my peers, but I’m just going to stand up and say it: I don’t agree with statement from my industry body that it is ‘untrue that sections of UK press were bigoted’.”

Ian Murray, who began his journalism career more than 40 years ago, was appointed executive director in October 2017 before resigning in March 2021. (Pic: PA)

ITV News presenter Charlene White also said she would not host this year’s Society of Editors’ Press Awards because of the row over the comments on Meghan and Harry’s interview.

In a message to Mr Murray, she said: “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.”

After criticism, the SoE released a further statement on 10 March to clarify its comments which it said “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”.

When did Ian Murray resign?

Mr Murray acknowledged the reaction to the society’s comments and said he would step down from his position so that the SoE could “rebuild its reputation”.

“Since the statement was issued the SoE has been heavily criticised,” Mr Murray said upon announcing his resignation later that same day on 10 March.

“While I do not agree that the Society’s statement was in any way intended to defend racism, I accept it could have been much clearer in its condemnation of bigotry and has clearly caused upset.

“As executive director I lead the Society and as such must take the blame and so I have decided it is best for the board and membership that I step aside so that the organisation can start to rebuild its reputation.”

He added that the original statement was “not intended to gloss over the fact the media industry in the UK does have work to do on inclusivity and diversity”.

Who is Ian Murray?

Mr Murray began his journalism career more than 40 years ago, working on weekly and daily newspapers in the West Midlands before joining the Bournemouth Echo newsdesk.

Once there he worked his way up to become managing editor of the paper before he was appointed editor of the Southern Daily Echo in 1998 - a position he held for 20 years.

During that time, a number of weekly titles were added to his portfolio as editor-in-chief of Newsquest’s Hampshire titles, including the New Forest Post.

Mr Murray has been a member of the SoE since its formation in 1999, was president between 2013-14 before he was appointed executive director in October 2017.

He was appointed vice chair of the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee (DSMA) in 2018.

The SoE, which represents almost 400 members of the media, released a statement following his resignation.

SoE president Alison Gow said: “I would like to thank Ian for his tireless work on behalf of the Society; he has led campaigns for journalists’ rights and freedoms and worked hard behind the scenes when it appeared legislation might threaten those.

“The society is committed to representing all journalists and upholding Journalism; I am clear on what our mission must be, and we will strive as an organisation to listen and hear everyone’s views, and be strong advocates and allies for all those we represent.”