James Harding, the former director of BBC News, spoke of facing antisemitism as a journalist in his keynote address at JW3’s inaugural religion and media festival.
Mr Harding, 48, who was joined on stage by radio presenter and author Libby Purves, also criticised some reporting of religious affairs in the mainstream media, saying organisations “prefer to cover organisations than religious issues”.
Tuesday’s all-day event, at the Jewish community centre in North-West London, also featured an address by Mark Thompson, a former director-general of the BBC, and a screenwriting masterclass with Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Mr Harding, who is also a former editor of The Times, told the audience that he was once asked whether his Jewish background disqualified him from leading a large news organisation. He added that he has also received “inane and insulting” abuse on Twitter.
He said that, upon joining his first newspaper, he considered reverting to his family’s original name, Hirschowitz. It was changed to Harding by his grandmother after moving from Berlin to London in 1936.
He said he had asked his grandmother whether he should use James Hirschowitz as his byline. His grandmother recommended he stick to Harding.
Moving on to how the media reports religious affairs, Mr Harding said: “Newsrooms report religion always from the outside, rather than from the inside. They also tend to focus on the extremes of religion, such as intolerance and violence.”