Faced with a growing backlash after it upheld a complaint of breaching its editorial guidelines against its Indian-origin Breakfast show presenter Naga Munchetty, the BBC on Friday performed a spectacular U-turn on the ongoing controversy. BBC Director-General Tony Hall has publicly backed Munchetty in an all-staff email. Earlier, as many as 40 prominent British journalists had written to Hall urging him to reconsider the BBC’s decision against Munchetty.
Munchetty, who was born to an Indian mother and Mauritian father, had reacted angrily to US President Donald Trump’s tweet against four Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley asking them to ‘go back to the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” All four are US citizens but only Omar was born outside the US.
Munchetty and her co-host Dan Walker were discussing the tweet posted by Trump on their show in July when the latter asked the Indian-origin presenter what she made of the tweet posted by the US President. To which, Munchetty said, “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.” She went on to add, “Now, I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”
Munchetty also said that she was ‘furious. Absolutely furious’ by what Trump had tweeted adding that ‘I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it’s OK to skirt the lines by using language like that.’ She had clarified that ‘anyway, I’m not here to give my opinion.’
The BBC heavily promoted the video clip of Munchetty’s comments clocking more than 1.5 million views on Twitter alone. But the British public broadcaster later upheld a complaint against her and found her guilty of breaching the impartiality code enshrined in its Editorial Guidelines.
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) July 17, 2019
This prompted as many as 40 prominent British journalists to write to the BBC to reconsider its decision since this will have considerable impact in legitimising racism in the UK. Their letter read, “We believe that, in addition to being deeply flawed, illegal and contrary to the spirit and purpose of public broadcasting, the BBC’s current position will have a profound effect on future diversity within the BBC. To suggest that future BAME broadcasters will be hired at the corporation on the premise that they remain “impartial” about how they feel about their experiences of racism is ludicrous. To require journalists of all ethnicities and races to endorse racism as a legitimate “opinion” is an abrogation of responsibility of the most serious nature.”
Faced with growing outrage, Hall wrote an email to all BBC staff saying, “Naga Munchetty – one of our stars – was completely within her rights to speak about the tweets of Donald Trump which have been widely condemned as racist. We completely back her in saying ‘as a woman of colour, to go back where I came from, that was embedded in racism’. She was speaking honestly and from the heart about her own experiences. We admire her for it and she was completely justified in doing so.” The email ended by saying that diversity was ‘not ‘negotiable.’