Woman’s Hour: New host Emma Barnett responds after Kelechi Okafor drops out over ‘vile’ and ‘degrading’ comments

Barnett said she was discussing actor’s alleged antisemitic remarks with her producers

Ellie Harrison,Isobel Lewis
Wednesday 06 January 2021 17:12
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Emma Barnett has responded after Kelechi Okafor withdrew from appearing on Woman’s Hour when she heard the new host make what she claimed were “degrading and vile” comments towards her.

Okafor had been due to appear on the BBC Radio 4 programme on Wednesday (6 January) to discuss the achievements of the #MeToo movement one year on from Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial starting.

Okafor was scheduled to speak alongside guests including Weinstein accusers Caitlin Dulany and Rosanna Arquette and defence lawyer Gudrun Young, but wrote on Twitter that she had withdrawn from the programme just before it began.

“Hi guys I’m coming off Woman’s Hour because what I’ve just had to witness is absolutely degrading and vile,” she tweeted.

Okafor claimed that she had heard the show’s host talking about her before the episode began while seemingly not realising that her microphone was on.

“You can have a genuine concern about something you’ve been told about me and address it in a manner that is kind. That wasn’t what took place,” Okafor wrote.

“Myself and the other people who would be talking during the segment could hear me being talked about like a d***head. When she clocks the mic is on suddenly it’s, ‘Well Kelechi could you just explain to me because I’m trying to give you a chance to explain…’ It was on your producers to have explained and done their research. It was on you to check your mic.”

Describing how she had been asked on the show to debate guests who felt that the #MeToo movement was “no longer needed”, Okafor continued: “The fact is that if you feel it’s no longer needed for your white middle class sensibilities, marginalised voices still need it.

“We haven’t heard from everybody regarding the violations they’ve faced. The originators of the MeToo movement were black women. From enslaved black women who were raped by slave owners to Tarana Burke yet their voices are yet to be honoured.”

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Responding to Okafor’s claims, Barnett tweeted a statement explaining that she and her producers had been discussing alleged antisemitic remarks made by Okafor. Barnett then claimed she asked Okafor about the allegations and offered to discuss them with her on the programme, but Okafor “hung up”.

In an email to The Independent, a BBC spokesperson said: “During an off-air conversation ahead of the programme Emma Barnett and the production team talked about a guest’s role in the discussion, and how to reflect some of the guest’s alleged previous comments and the issue of antisemitism as part of the Woman’s Hour discussion on the role of minority voices in the Me Too movement. This was also raised directly with the guest before going on air.”

Barnett took over as host of Woman’s Hour on Monday (4 January), replacing long-standing presenters Jane Garvey and Jenni Murray.

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