Society of Editors boss in heated TV row with BBC presenter over 'racist' Meghan headlines

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Watch: Society of Editors boss in row over 'racist' Meghan headlines

The head of the Society of Editors has been involved in a heated TV row with a BBC presenter over alleged racist headlines about Meghan Markle.

Ian Murray, the society’s executive director, refused to answer BBC journalist Victoria Derbyshire when she asked him repeatedly if certain past headlines about the Duchess of Sussex were racist.

The pair’s argument was broadcast live on the BBC News channel on Tuesday, a day after Meghan and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was aired on British television.

Read more: How the UK front pages reacted to Harry and Meghan's interview

In their interview, Harry said that racism in the UK was a “large part” of why he and Meghan left for the US, and that the British press – “specifically the tabloids” – was “bigoted”.

Meghan told Winfrey she has had worse press treatment than the Duchess of Cambridge.

BBC's Victoria Derbyshire, left, and Society of Editors chief Ian Murray, right, clashed in a TV interview over headlines about Meghan Markle. (BBC)
BBC's Victoria Derbyshire, left, and Society of Editors chief Ian Murray, right, clashed in a TV interview over headlines about Meghan Markle. (BBC)

On Tuesday, Derbyshire read out a number of past tabloid headlines to Murray, including one from November 2016 by The Daily Star, which asked if Harry was about to “marry into gangster royalty”.

Murray replied: “I’m not going to defend one headline.”

Derbyshire said: “You told me the British tabloid press was not bigoted. I’ve just given you some examples. You’re denying that those examples are racist. And I’m asking, why are you denying that?”

UNSPECIFIED - UNSPECIFIED: In this handout image provided by Harpo Productions and released on March 5, 2021, Oprah Winfrey interviews Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on A CBS Primetime Special premiering on CBS on March 7, 2021. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle criticised the British media during their interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Getty Images)

Murray responded: “I’m not defending individual things here and there, I’m looking at the whole thing. If you keep on looking you will find that needle in the haystack.”

Derbyshire said: “But you just told the British press isn’t racist. And now you’re saying if you keep on looking you will find a racist needle in the haystack. So let me ask you again, are those headlines racist?”

Murray said: “I’m not saying whether they are or they aren’t.”

On Monday, the Society of Editors refuted Harry’s claim that the British tabloid press is “bigoted”.

In a statement, Murray said: “It is not acceptable for the Duke and Duchess to make such claims without providing any supporting evidence.

“If it is simply the case the Sussexes feel that the press by questioning their actions and commenting on their roles when working as royals funded by the taxpayer were being racist then they are mistaken.

“The UK media has a proud record of calling out racism and also being at the forefront of campaigns to support mental health awareness, another of the issues raised by the couple.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made a number of claims in their interview, including that an unnamed royal asked Harry “how dark” their son Archie’s skin might be.

On Monday, Winfrey told CBS This Morning that Harry told her neither the Queen nor Prince Philip made the remark.

In the interview, Meghan revealed there were times when she “didn’t want to be alive any more” because of the pressures of life within the Royal Family.

Harry said in the interview he felt “let down” by his father the Prince of Wales, saying Charles stopped taking his calls after the couple’s decision to step back from royal duties. Harry also said he and his brother William “were on different paths”.

The couple also revealed that they are expecting a baby girl.

Watch: The key revelations from Meghan and Harry’s Oprah interview