The BBC has backed a presenter who described the Brexit night event in Parliament Square as “very white” after the comment received more than 200 complaints.
Geeta Guru-Murthy (pictured) presented a Brexit night special on the BBC News Channel on 31 January as revellers gathered in Westminster to mark the moment the UK left the EU.
But 209 people complained to the BBC that Guru-Murthy described the Leave-supporting crowd’s lack of racial diversity.
In an interview with three Brexiteer women, in which one of them said Brexit had meant she could now be proud of the Union Jack, she said: “It’s a very white crowd, mostly.”
In a public response to the complaints, the BBC said Guru-Murthy “used the comment about the ethnicity of the crowd to move the discussion onto immigration and Brexit supporters’ desire for more controls”.
It said she did so after she and her producer spoke to a number of attendees of the event both on and off-air throughout the evening and were told the “main issue offered for why they supported Brexit was more control on immigration”.
The BBC said: “Her question was whether this desire for more immigration controls had the effect of not being welcoming to black and ethnic minority people – which had been an issue that was discussed during and after the referendum campaign and a reasonable question on the night the UK was leaving the EU. So commenting on the ethnic mix of the crowd was giving context to the question.
“We should point out that none of the three of the women interviewed was unhappy during or after the interview about the line of questioning.”
Talkradio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer shared a clip of the interview on Twitter the next day, saying: “BBC reporter to Brexiteers celebrating in Parliament Square: ‘It’s a very white crowd’.
“When she reports at the Notting Hill Carnival, does she point out the “very black crowd” to the people she interviews too?”
The BBC also pointed out that Guru-Murthy had interviewed numerous Brexit-supporting members of the public and politicians over the course of the night, including former Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe.
The incident came six months after broadcast regulator Ofcom dismissed more than 2,600 complaints about a similar comment from Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow.
Snow was reporting live from College Green in Westminster, near where a number of Brexit rallies and protests were taking place, in March last year when he said he had “never seen so many white people in one place”.
Despite claims the comment was racist and offensive, the regulator ruled that it had been “sufficiently contextualised” and therefore not in breach of the Broadcasting Code.
The BBC also received a further 238 complaints that its news coverage of Britain leaving the EU on 31 January was biased against Brexit.
The BBC’s Guru-Murthy is sister to Krishnan at Channel 4 News.