The BBC has apologised for using a racial slur in one of its news reports after a top radio DJ quit in protest against the corporation’s original decision to justify the use of the N-word. BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Sideman, whose real name is David Whitely, quit saying that ‘the action and the defence of the action feels like a slap in the face of our community.’
After receiving close to 20,000 complaints, BBC Director-General Tony Hall issued a public apology and admitted a mistake in the corporation’s editorial judgment. In his all-staff email, Hall wrote, “…the BBC’s intention was to highlight an alleged racist attack. This is important journalism which the BBC should be reporting on and we will continue to do so. Yet despite these good intentions, I recognise that we have ended up creating distress amongst many people.”
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He added, “The BBC now accepts that we should have taken a different approach at the time of broadcast and we are very sorry for that. We will now be strengthening our guidance on offensive language across our output. Every organisation should be able to acknowledge when it has made a mistake. We made one here. It is important for us to listen – and also to learn. And that is what we will continue to do.”
What’s the story?
BBC’s social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin, a white person, filed a report last month covering an attack on a 21-year-old NHS (National Health Service) worker and musician known as K or K-Dogg. K-Dogg was hit by a speeding car on 22 July as he walked to a bus stop from Southmead Hospital in Bristol, where he worked. He has suffered serious injuries including a broken leg, nose and cheekbone in the attack, which police have said they are treating as racially aggravated due to the racist language used by K-Dogg’s attackers.
In her pre-recorded report, Lamdin was heard saying, “Just to warn you, you’re about to hear highly offensive language, because as the men ran away, they hurled racial abuse, calling him a n*****.”
The use of a highly-racial slur against the Black community by a White reporter triggered a huge backlash and thousands complained on the BBC website. Nearly 400 complaints were also registered on the British broadcasting watchdog’s website Ofcom.
The BBC first defended its action saying that the decision to report the racial slur had not been taken lightly and that it understood people would be upset. The British broadcaster said that it wanted to report the word allegedly used in the attack, and this decision was supported by the family of the victim.
However, not everyone was convinced by the BBC’s defence. Larry Madowo, US correspondent for the BBC’s World Service, said that he was once stopped from using the racist term in an article when quoting an African American. He wrote on Twitter, “But a white person was allowed to say it on TV because it was ‘editorially justified’.”
The BBC didn’t allow me, an actual black man, to use the N-word in an article when quoting an African American who used it. But a white person was allowed to say it ON TV because it was ‘editorially justified’ https://t.co/bUAaIxZyeR
— Larry Madowo (@LarryMadowo) August 9, 2020
Response to Tony Hall’s apology
Hall, who will soon be replaced by Tim Davie as the BBC Director-General, has earned plaudits from journalists and his own colleagues. BBC’s director of creative diversity June Sarpong welcomed Lord Hall’s subsequent apology. Her tweet read, “I am glad BBC director general Tony Hall has personally intervened to unequivocally apologise over BBC News’ use of the N-word.”
I am glad @bbc Director General Tony Hall has personally intervened to unequivocally apologise over @BBCNews use of the N-word.He announced that new measures are being put in place to strengthen offensive language guidance across all of the BBC’s output. https://t.co/dvq1fvfvMZ
— June Sarpong OBE (@junesarpong) August 9, 2020
Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy said that though Hall should be praised for his intervention, ‘once again it has taken a direct intervention by the DG to overturn a mistake on race previously defended by the BBC’s editorial policy managers.’ He also urged the BBC bosses to ‘go back to Sideman and ask him to take back his resignation and put him back on air.’