Late on August 21 the Guardian press office received a request for comment from Ruby Lott-Lavigna, a journalist for Vice.com, for a piece that they were preparing on diversity in British food media. It is a serious issue and worthy of examination. She asserted that we had run no reviews of black-owned restaurants between January 2019 and January 2020. Her email said:
“For the purposes of the investigation, we defined the restaurant “owner”/”owners” as the majority shareholder of the business, and/or who were identified publicly (press, social media etc) as the owner. If a restaurant had multiple owners, but one of these owners was Black, we counted this as a “Black-owned” restaurant. If a parent company owned the restaurant, we looked at the owner of that parent company.
The piece details that:
– Between January 2019 and January 2020 the Guardian and the Observer published no reviews of Black-owned restaurants (a Jay Rayner visit to Bluejay cafe with Stormzy is referenced, but not counted as a “review”).”
I sent a lengthy response, which is included at the end of the piece. It’s also here:
“During the more than 20 years that I have been reviewing restaurants for The Observer I have never looked at the ethnicity of the shareholders in the businesses I review so cannot speak to the criteria you set.
I can say that Stormzy commissioned the Bluejay piece as a restaurant review and, while it was not a standard review, if I had not thought it worth writing about, I would not have done so. Just a few weeks before the period you have examined, I reviewed Restaurant 1251 which belongs to chef James Cochran who is of black Jamaican descent and whose food reflects that heritage.
During the year you focus on I also reviewed restaurants serving the food of, and cooked by members of, communities from Sri Lanka, India, Kurdistan, and a variety of provinces of China among others. Over the lengthy time I have been a restaurant critic I have reviewed restaurants variously from across the Caribbean and representing the African American experience and referenced others. Africa has clearly been completely under represented although in my broadcast journalism, both on radio and television, I have featured food projects involving various of the UK’s African communities. There are clearly serious questions around diversity of ownership and representation within the restaurant industry itself which, inevitably, media coverage, including my own, reflects.
If the issue is raised to question my commitment to racial diversity and equality I must reference my work as a general reporter: my major investigation, for example, into the death of Michael Menson in the late 90s, which contributed to the reopening of the police investigation in to his killing and the eventual conviction of his murderers; my journalism covering the murder of Stephen Lawrence; my involvement in the campaign to secure the release of Winston Silcott, and my detailed analysis of the geographic spread of race crime in Britain, which was subsequently requested as a submission for the House of Commons library and which resulted in a nomination in the Race In The Media Awards. There is also my journalism covering the rise of the Far Right across Europe and in Britain which, as a high-profile Jew, resulted in death threats and the involvement of the police.
As a resident of Brixton, South London, for almost 30 years I have long been a part of the multi-ethnic communities in which I live, including a period as a patron of a local charity providing opportunities for socially excluded children from those communities. Most recently I was involved in the campaign to save Nour Cash and Carry, a vital resource for many of Brixton’s BAME communities.
Representation of diversity in the media is a serious and complex issue; all aspects of the media obviously need to do a better job of representing that diversity. I regard myself as having been a part of that work for the more than thirty years that I have been a journalist, but inevitably it is a work in progress. While it is possible to reduce the argument to a head count from within a single calendar year and category, my lengthy experience tells me that it will never provide the full story.”