Former Today host John Humphrys has waded into the Naga Munchetty row, describing the BBC‘s handling of the controversy as a “muddle”.
The broadcaster’s director general Tony Hall this week overturned a ruling by the BBC‘s executive complaints unit that Munchetty’s comments about Donald Trump breached editorial guidelines.
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“I think muddle is exactly the right word,” Humphrys told Good Morning Britain.
He told the ITV show: “If Naga wants to say, as a woman of colour, ‘this has happened to me, this is my experience’, she is absolutely entitled to say that.
“She is not offering an opinion. She is stating a fact. ‘It is difficult,’ she said in essence, ‘sometimes to be a woman of colour in this country…’
“I want to hear that but I don’t want to hear her then offering her analysis of Trump’s motivation.
“That isn’t the job but she didn’t then do a detailed analysis,” he said of the BBC Breakfast presenter.
Humphrys, who bowed out of Today after 32 years last month, said: “She was invited to offer a few thoughts and I suppose if we were all utterly… above reproach in every respect, and she was wearing a little halo, she (might have) said, ‘I don’t think that I can entertain that thought because this isn’t for presenters to do’.
“But you know, come on, she’s human. It would have been dull, it would have been slightly silly. I don’t think she did anything terribly wrong.”
Humphrys told Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid: “On the other hand, maybe some of the bosses were right when they said, ‘This is a bit here and a bit there’.
“Maybe some of the bosses were right when they said they, not she, stepped over the line a wee bit but sometimes lines are stepped over.”
The BBC faced a backlash in the days after the ECU ruling and several prominent black and Asian journalists and broadcasters called for the decision to be reversed.
After reviewing the ECU decision himself, Lord Hall said: “I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.
“There was never any sanction against Naga and I hope this step makes that absolutely clear.”
But former BBC chairman Lord Grade told Newsnight: “I don’t care who it alienated, the BBC‘s impartiality is sacrosanct and the BBC has to defend that.
“The day it concedes anything in the way of impartiality, spells the end of BBC journalism.”
Mark Thompson, a former BBC director general, said yesterday that the controversy had meant the corporation’s impartiality has been presented as “a fault”.
He was referring to a comment headline in the Times which said: “Kneejerk impartiality has driven the BBC mad.”
Speaking at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ annual conference in London, the New York Times president said: “In this headline, impartiality has become a fault, it’s become a negative, unthinking, emotional response.
“The BBC‘s virtues, one of its virtues has been turned against it. That’s a characteristic of a long-running story.”
When asked whether the BBC had made the right decision by reversing the ruling, Thompson did not offer an opinion.
He said: “I thank my lucky stars for many things; one thing I am thankful for right now is that is not my job anymore.
“To give you an opinion I would need to study the case much more closely than I have.”
Munchetty has not yet commented and is due to return to present BBC Breakfast on Thursday alongside Charlie Stayt.
Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire