The BBC has shared more detail about a complaint that was partially upheld against BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty after some journalists expressed “bewilderment” and “unease” at the ruling.
The presenter is said to have fallen foul of the BBC’s strict impartiality guidelines over her remark about tweets by US President Donald Trump which aired on the morning show in July.
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Trump said a number of ethnic minority congresswomen should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”, which were widely condemned as racist and reported by the BBC.
In a brief exchange with co-presenter Dan Walker during the show, Munchetty said such comments were “embedded in racism”.
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) July 17, 2019
“Every time I have been told as a woman of colour to ‘go home’, to ‘go back to where I came from’ that was embedded in racism,” she said.
“Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”
It is understood the BBC’s executive complaints unit has upheld a complaint over the remark, although the adjudication has yet to be published online.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The ECU ruled that while Ms Munchetty was entitled to give a personal response to the phrase ‘go back to your own country’ as it was rooted in her own experience, overall her comments went beyond what the guidelines allow for.”
The ruling prompted a number of journalists, including those at the BBC, to express their concern on Twitter and call for further explanation.
The BBC’s Carrie Gracie said there was “unease among BBC journalists for whom ‘go back’ = racist”. She added: “If power trumps or bends meaning then no point in journalism, just print propaganda.
“There is not BBC journalism worth the name without BBC values. Accountability is one. Explain [Naga] reprimand please.”
BBC correspondent Sangita Myska added: “Right now, there is a lot of bewilderment among BAME staff” over the ruling.
Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy also tweeted: “When you think about what those (mostly) older white men have got away with saying on the BBC and Twitter day after day this is a quite perplexing finding.”
The National Union of Journalists also objected to the decision, saying the BBC had got it “very wrong”.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “All broadcasters, and in particular the BBC a public service broadcaster, should call out racism. It is not a matter of opinion – it is wrong.”
Stanistreet added: “Of course, [Munchetty] was right to say she was furious with the president’s language and what it meant.
“The BBC has got it very wrong –BBC journalists should not be prohibited from commenting on evidently racist language, especially at a time when racist rhetoric is having a real impact on people’s lives.”
In a further statement today, the BBC offered more explanation behind its decision, saying its editorial guidelines “do require due impartiality”.
It went on: “The ECU ruling is clear that Naga Munchetty was perfectly entitled to give a personal response to the phrase ‘go back to you own country’.
“She understandably feels strongly on this issue, and there was nothing wrong with her talking about her own experiences of racism.
“However, our editorial guidelines do not allow for journalists to then give their opinions about the individual making the remarks of their motives for doing so – in this case President Trump – and it was for this reason that the complaint was partially upheld.
“Those judgements are for the audience to make.”
The BBC’s ECU has also just upheld a complaint by a Newsnight viewer who claimed presenter Emily Maitlis was “sneering and bullying” towards columnist Rod Liddle.
It found Maitlis was too “persistent and personal” in her criticism of Liddle during the discussion on 15 July, leaving her open to claims she had “failed to be even-handed”.