June 4, 2021 - 11:50am

When 49.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the Harry and Meghan interview on Oprah, the drama that unfolded left many victims — not all famous or royal — in their wake. One such casualty was Ian Murray, the head of the Society of Editors, who came out to defend the British press against the claim made by the Duke of Sussex that the industry was racist. According to a statement put out by Murray, such an “attack” was “not acceptable” without any evidence. Following the statement came a now-infamous interview with Victoria Derbyshire, in which Murray got into a heated row with the interviewer over whether certain headlines could be construed as racist.

In spite of a second statement issued by the Society of Editors, the damage was already done: over 160 journalists of colour and the editors of the Guardian, Financial Times and HuffPost wrote an open letter describing the SoE’s initial statement as “laughable” proof of “an institution and an industry in denial”. This left Murray in the strange predicament of being attacked by the people he was trying to defend. Meanwhile, an ITV presenter and editor of the Yorkshire Post both pulled out of the Society of Editors awards. 

Effectively, the executive director was left with no choice but to resign from the organisation he helped to found some 22 years prior. In an exclusive interview with UnHerd, Murray finally speaks out and give his version of events: does he regret the statement? Is the British press racist? And what does it feel like when the mob comes for you? He discusses all this and more in today’s LockdownTV:

On why needed to leave:

When the mob turns, they need a target and it’s vicious — the phone calls, the hate, the threats of violence and worse, actually reaching me and my family in my home with phone calls and all kinds of things. I calculated that if I was going to save the Society of Editors, I needed to walk away.
- Ian Murray, UnHerd

Why did his statement cause such a furore:

One, it’s the Meghan and Harry ‘sparkledust’ coming down from Hollywood. Secondly, I was following in the wake of Piers Morgan, who had resigned a little earlier before I did… Thirdly, it was a classic witch trial, whereby someone stands up to defend someone who’s been accused of being a witch, must therefore be a witch. 
- Ian Murray, UnHerd

On the show trial that followed:

What happens at the end of a show trial is when you’ve got your admission and your culprits, you must shame them publicly. You must make sure that everyone gets the message that “if you don’t agree with what we say, if you push back against anything that we say — then this is what we will do to you: we’ll come for your family, we’ll come for your career, your friends, anyone that associates with you. So don’t question. Don’t question”. 
- Ian Murray, UnHerd

On the current climate:

Now it’s coming to a point that if you try to defend against anything, you’re going to get swamped attacked, and overwhelmed. And that has a chilling effect. That means people will shut up. Whether they are in the media or elsewhere. It’s censorship. It’s self censorship. And that is a dangerous thing.
- Ian Murray, UnHerd

Does he stand by his statement?

Absolutely…It was a strong statement, but that was to counterbalance the fact there is no proof or no evidence that there is a general theme of racism or bigotry in the British media or that large sections of the media have got a racist agenda.
- Ian Murray, UnHerd

Why did the press turn on Meghan?

We [the British people] don’t like being preached to, by members of royalty in particular, especially when they appear hypocritical and do something completely different…They also made it plain that they didn’t particularly like the press. And, if you’re going to say, “look, we don’t like you”, parts of the media, we’re going to say, “well, we don’t like you either”.
- Ian Murray, UnHerd

On the health of the free press:

I think it is in a very worrying place. I can be annoyed with the Left of the media, who traduced and damaged me… But I’m not going to say that they should be silenced. I’m not going to say that they shouldn’t have a voice. Now that would be hugely hypocritical of me after all these years. I want them to continue to have a voice.
- Ian Murray, UnHerd

How does he feel?

Am I bitter and twisted about it? Yeah, I can be. I can be pretty annoyed about it. In the first stage, you’re obviously in shock from doing it. But you take an awful lot of comfort from the outpouring of support from people I know and people I’ve never met at all….But there is also disappointment with some others that I thought were friends or associates who ran for the hills. And it quickly dawns on you, that your reputation has been shredded in some ways, that it’s been tarnished.
- Ian Murray, UnHerd