BBC urged to reconsider Naga Munchetty complaint decision

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Writer Afua Hirsch (left) she was “shocked and horrified” by the ruling about Naga Munchetty’s comments

The BBC has been asked to overturn its decision to uphold a complaint against Breakfast host Naga Munchetty.

An open letter signed by a number of broadcasters, objecting to the ruling about remarks Munchetty made about Donald Trump, is expected to ask the BBC to consider reversing its decision.

Writer Afua Hirsch told BBC Radio 4 the decision would have a “chilling effect on other broadcasters of colour”.

The BBC’s editorial standards boss said there was “a lot of misunderstanding”.

Munchetty was found to have breached guidelines by criticising President Donald Trump after he said four female politicians should “go back” to “places from which they came”. But she is not facing any disciplinary action or reprimand.

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The open letter has not yet been published in full but is expected to condemn the BBC’s decision, saying it “amounts to a misunderstanding of the BBC’s editorial guidelines and a form of racially discriminatory treatment”.

Hirsch, who helped organise the letter, told the BBC she was “shocked and horrified” by the ruling.

She told the Today programme: “As a matter of principle, it [the BBC decision] suggests that the racist views she was commenting on are opinions that should be treated impartially, and that really legitimises racism and suggests it’s something we should debate.

“That’s clearly wrong and it’s widely accepted that racism is not a legitimate opinion, so I think the BBC has got confused by treating it that way.”

She added that the decision was “abhorrent”, and that it had “a highly disproportionate and unacceptable impact on people of colour in broadcasting, because it distributes the labour of having to challenge racism unequally”.

‘Breached impartiality guidelines’

David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, said the “issue” on which the BBC finding was made was “not her responding to that clearly racist comment, or responding personally to what it’s like as a person of colour to have that a remark of that nature directed against yourself”.

He said the issue arose “when she went on further to discuss President Trump himself, what his motivations were for that, and that breached our impartiality requirements.”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines say:

  • “Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy.”

Mr Jordan added: “So the line is not about calling out racist comments, which is perfectly acceptable where things are clearly framed in racist language. It’s about how you go on then to discuss the person that made them and make assumptions or remarks about that.”

Munchetty’s comments came after an interview with a supporter of the president.

Addressing the “go home” comment, co-presenter Dan Walker said: “That was the most telling quote for me last night. I can’t remember who said it but she said I’ve been told to go home many times to go back to where I’ve come from in my life but never by the man sitting in the Oval Office.”

She said: “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.

“Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”

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Dan Walker replaced Bill Turnbull as a BBC Breakfast presenter in 2016

Walker then said: “You’re sitting here not giving an opinion, but how do you feel as someone when you’ve been told that before, and when you hear that from him?”

To which Munchetty replied: “Furious. Absolutely furious. And I imagine a lot of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious that a man in that position feels it’s okay to skirt the lines with using language like that.”

Walker then asked: “So you feel his use of that then legitimises other people to use this…”

“Yes.. yes,” replied Munchetty.

“It feels like a thought-out strategy, to strengthen his position,” noted Walker.

Munchetty added: “And it is not enough to do it just to get attention… he’s in a responsible position.”

The broadcaster’s complaints unit found it was “entirely legitimate” for Munchetty to reply to Walker in terms which reflected her own experience of racism and the racist context in which people from ethnic minorities are told to go back to their own countries.

But it said she went on to comment critically on the possible motive or consequences of Mr Trump’s words and “judgements of that kind are for the audience to make”.

She has received messages of support, including from Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The BBC’s spokeswoman has said Munchetty was not available for comment.

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