The BBC’s director general has stepped in to reverse a ruling against Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty as it threatened to engulf the corporation in a race row.
Lord Tony Hall responded to calls to personally review a decision by the BBC’s executive complaints unit which partially upheld a complaint against Munchetty over comments she made on air in July.
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Munchetty and co-host Dan Walker discussed a tweet by US President Donald Trump in which he said a number of US congresswomen of colour should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”.
Trump’s tweet had been widely condemned as racist.
Munchetty said in her experience such comments were “embedded in racism” and added: “…you know what certain phrases mean”.
The ECU said her comments “went beyond” the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality in response to a viewer complaint, which it has been reported had initially included Walker.
It said: “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 decision prompted outcry from some journalists and media workers, with more than 40 prominent black media and entertainment figures writing an open letter to the BBC condemning its finding.
The BBC responded by publishing more detail about the ECU’s decision, but continued to stand by it.
But in an email to all BBC staff last night, Lord Hall overturned the ruling.
He said it had “sparked an important debate about racism and its interpretation” and declared that “racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic”.
He went on: “It was only ever in a limited way that there was found to be a breach of our guidelines. These are often finely balanced and difficult judgements.
“But, in this instance, I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.”
Lord Hall said there was never any sanction against Naga, whom he described as an “exceptional journalist and presenter”, adding: “I am proud that she works for the BBC.”
He also said he had asked editorial and leadership teams to discuss how the BBC “manages live exchanges on air around these topics in the future”.
Lord Hall’s reversal came after he met with representatives from the National Union of Journalists and the Federation of Entertainment Unions yesterday.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said she used the meeting to make clear “the blow this incident has dealt to our members”.
“The director general’s priority now must be to rebuild trust amongst journalists and staff and the best way of doing that is to step up and prioritise the work taking place to increase the diversity of the workforce on and off camera,” she said.
“It is also necessary to review the editorial complaints unit, its decision making and the diversity of its make-up.”
Picture: Ian West/PA Wire