Why did the BBC handle the Naga Munchetty complaint so badly? The story begins with David Cameron

Scared of losing its funding from a more hostile Tory government, the BBC’s response has been to kowtow to the right

Bonnie Greer
Tuesday 01 October 2019 16:47 BST
Naga Munchetty calls Donald Trump racist

The thing about breakfast television is that the people who present it are supposed to be people that you want in your home at that time of day. This may seem obvious, but most of us don’t really think about it.

Which is a tribute to the fact that television is a calculated and calculating business. It is highly competitive; very little is left to chance.

Breakfast television is one of the most competitive two or three hours of the day. So if you’re a presenter, you have certain qualities. One of those qualities is authenticity, or at least the façade of it.

The BBC would want to have people who are “real” presenting their flagship breakfast show, so if a breakfast television host says something that feels genuine, real or authentic - something that you could imagine coming from an ordinary person that you happen to know in real life - well, that is ratings gold. It’s exactly what a broadcaster wants.

Or at least, it’s what they say they want.

Donald Trump’s stewardship of the “send them back” rants emanating from one of his Make American Great Again rallies is something that you would expect such a person to have a response to. After all, this is a classic racist trope, almost comical in its antiquity, simplicity, and lack of just plain nous.

The four members of Congress that this chant in North Carolina was directed at are women of colour. Three out of four of them were born in the United States. So where they had to go back to was exactly where they already were.

This fact, nor the chant, would not have deterred a Trump Cultist, but would give a woman of colour presenting a breakfast telly show pause, to say the least. That she would then speak out would be natural in every way.

So when Naga Munchetty called the 45th president of the United States out for his comments, saying they were "embedded in racism", she knew exactly what she was doing. And she also would have expected her employer, at the very least, to not have given her any grief over it. After all, her employer is the BBC.

So how could it be that, after a formal complaint was made about both Naga and her co-host Dan Walker over impartiality, that only Naga faced the reprimand – a reprimand that has now been withdrawn by the corporation?

I have had the pleasure and the honour of serving on two arts boards with Lord Hall as chair, before he was BBC director general. The man I know is a passionate and vocal advocate of diversity and against racism without hesitation. One of the boards I served on with him is one of the nation’s main producers of the work of artists of colour: the Theatre Royal at Stratford East. Tony is no slouch in matters of race. He's all in.

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What I think is this: the Conservative Party happened to the BBC.

Specifically the Conservative Party of David Cameron. The former prime minister did not hide his detestation of the Beeb and all of its works, making the broadcaster arguably the first recipient, by inference, of the now infamous tag “enemy of the people”.

The corporation is sometimes like the slightly frightened lady in a Tennessee Williams play who depends on “the kindness of strangers”. This could explain its “pearl-clutching” at Naga’s perfectly reasonable response to Trump. Being a woman of colour, she would have looked absurd if she had not responded as she did.

Until the institutions of our land put qualified (and there are plenty of us) people of colour in decision-making posts, ball-fumbling like this will long continue.

The BBC is no better nor any worse than another institution. But being no better nor worse is simply not good enough.

If the corporation cannot do better, be better than this, then the BBC Sounds that it will hear will be lots of us saying “goodbye”.

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