Fergal Keane responds to BBC race comments

The BBC's Fergal Keane has described as "pretty absurd" any suggestion that he was less "culturally aware" when reporting on Africa because of the colour of his skin.

His comments came after the corporation's newly appointed diversity chief, Mary FitzPatrick said in a newspaper interview that she was "tired" of the way in which white journalists report Africa.

World affairs correspondent Keane told Press Gazette: "I agree with her overall point that we need more ethnic minority reporters but this is because we need to properly reflect the diversity of Britain itself.

"I would find any suggestion that my skin colour would make me any more or less empathetic or culturally aware in Africa pretty absurd. It strikes me as the kind of remark that needed a bit more thought and I am sure Mary did not mean to be taken as a critique of people like myself or John Simpson.

"I have been reporting the continent for nearly 25 years and feel more comfortable there than I do anywhere else in the world."

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

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 went on to add: "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."

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 white."

Yvonne Ndege, a senior producer at the BBC said: "Being white I think can be a hindrance to getting a story and being black can also been hindrance to getting certain stories.

In Africa people are far more trusting of black reporters, correspondents and producers I think. But that diversity should not just be on screen but in the boardroom too."

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

FitzPatrick said: "Whilst 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, we should, as we move forward, keep looking for that greater range of voices."

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