Diversity chief's interview sparks new BBC race row

Senior BBC staff are said to be angered after the corporation's newly appointed diversity chief said she was "tired" of the way in which white correspondents report on Africa.

Mary FitzPatrick, who was appointed in June, made the comments regarding BBC News to The Observer, as part of an interview on diversity in BBC television.

A well-placed source at BBC News told Press Gazette: "[BBC staff] are all very angered by it, they're pissed off about it and they think it is ridiculous.

"I don't think she's done herself any good with this particular episode. I'm all for diversity — I think it's a great idea for all kinds of good reasons.

"She says that she was misquoted and I'm glad if that was the case, because clearly what she was saying was not the right way to do it.

"Clive [Myrie, the BBC's Paris correspondent, currently reporting in Lebanon] is a case in point — there aren't many black people in Lebanon, but he's doing a great job."

Yvonne Ndege, a Kenyan-born executive producer at the BBC, said she agreed with FitzPatrick's viewpoint, saying: "From my experience working for the BBC in Africa, people are more trusting of black reporters, correspondents and producers. But that diversity should not just be on screen but in the boardroom too."

In the article, FitzPatrick was quoted as saying: "I think what's really important is that BBC News reflects the audience that it's serving. You need valid and culturally accurate voices speaking.

"I get tired of repeatedly seeing programmes where [the situation is] ‘here we are in Africa and here's a white person, saying well, look at these people'."

She added: "I would prefer to see somebody who understands that culture, understands what's going on and can say: ‘look with me, because I am part of this.' It feels more authoritative and more involved."

Within the BBC itself, there appeared to be a discrepancy in the corporation's stance on FitzPatrick's comments.

On Sunday, BBC News issued a statement, saying it was "absurd" to suggest that any of the corporation's correspondents "lack credibility with our audiences because they are white".

It added: "We have a number of reporters from ethnic minorities who cover stories around the world." However, a day later, a BBC spokeswoman declined to release the full statement.

On Monday, FitzPatrick issued a note to BBC staff, saying she held the work of BBC News correspondents in the highest possible regard.

FitzPatrick said: "While I firmly believe that a deep understanding of the cultural background and issues surrounding a story is essential, I do not hold the view that this can only be delivered by, for example, a black reporter reporting from Africa.

"I do believe, however, that we should, as we move forward, keep looking for that greater range of voices."

Winston Phillips, chair of the BBC's Black and Asian Forum, said: "I have had no adverse comment from other BBAF members, so maybe they have not taken it on board, or they don't see it as an issue. I've not had loads of emails from my members saying ‘this is outrageous'."

Five years ago, the director general of the BBC, Greg Dyke, described the corporation as "hideously white", saying: "Our biggest problem is at management level. I had a management Christmas lunch and as I looked around I thought: ‘We've got a real problem here.' There were 80-odd people there and only one person who wasn't white."

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