Naga Munchetty: BBC staff condemn corporation for reprimanding presenter who spoke out on Trump racism

‘If power trumps or bends meaning then there’s no point in journalism, just print propaganda,’ says Carrie Gracie

Jon Sharman
Thursday 26 September 2019 18:14
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Naga Munchetty calls Donald Trump racist

BBC workers have lashed out at bosses over their decision to reprimand Naga Munchetty for calling Donald Trump racist.

The move was “bewildering and perplexing”, they said, while a former BBC broadcaster called it “wrong and immensely damaging” for the corporation.

In July Ms Munchetty addressed the US president’s Twitter diatribe against four female congresswomen, none of whom were white, in which he told them to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.

“Every time I’ve been told as a woman of colour to ‘go home’, to ‘go back to where I’ve come from’, that was embedded in racism,” the BBC Breakfast presenter said. “Now, I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean. I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious that a man in that position feels it’s okay to skirt the lines with using language like that.”

Mr Trump claimed later that “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”

On Wednesday the BBC upheld a complaint that Ms Munchetty’s comments had shown “bias”. In a statement at the time bosses said: “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.”

BBC journalists quickly hit out at the decision. Sangita Myska said that “right now, there is a lot of bewilderment among BAME staff”, while Carrie Gracie, who resigned as China editor in 2018 over an equal pay dispute, tweeted: “Unease among #BBC journalists for whom ‘go back’ = racist. If power trumps or bends meaning then no point in journalism, just print propaganda.

“There is no #BBC journalism worth the name without #BBC values. Accountability is one. Explain @BBCNaga reprimand please.”

Gabriel Gatehouse, the Newsnight international editor, tweeted: “This is mad. I propose a little thought experiment: if a BBC presenter suggested on air that a black Brit should “go back to where they came from” and viewers complained the remark was racist, would the BBC uphold such a complaint? One would hope so. Ergo...?”

Presenter Babita Sharma said: “I don’t get this at all. But I do get @BBCNaga who always tells it like it is & that’s why she’s a top journalist.” And Robin Lustig, a former BBC radio broadcaster, said: “I always try to defend the BBC whenever I can, but I cannot support this adjudication. It is both wrong and immensely damaging.”

In an email to The Independent, the BBC refused to say whether it planned to review its decision or apologise to Ms Munchetty.

In a statement, it added: “The BBC’s editorial guidelines do require due impartiality, but the editorial complaints unit’s ruling is clear that Naga Munchetty was perfectly entitled to give a personal response to the phrase ‘go back to your 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 or their motives for doing so – in this case President Trump – and it was for this reason that the complaint was partially upheld. Those judgments are for the audience to make.”

High-profile presenters from outside the corporation’s news arm also criticised the complaint unit’s decision. Trevor Nelson, the DJ, said he saw nothing wrong with “speaking your truth”. He added: “Every person of colour knows exactly what that phrase ‘go back home’ means. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to truly understand.”

And Greg James, the Radio 1 breakfast presenter, said: “I think my issue with it is that you have to make sure people who bravely say things that highlight how vulnerable they’ve felt are looked after by the guidelines as well.”

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