September 23, 2021

Group of 150 black broadcasters call on BBC to reverse ruling against Breakfast host Naga Munchetty

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A group of 150 black broadcasters, celebrities and actors have written a letter to demand the BBC reverse a decision to partially uphold a complaint against BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty. 

The group, which includes Sir Lenny Henry and Gillian Joseph from SkyNews are angered by the BBC’s decision to criticise Ms Munchetty who accused US President Donald Trump of being ’embedded in racism’. 

Also among those to sign the letter are actors Adrian Lester and David Harewood, Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy and comedienne Gina Yashere.

Meanwhile Chancellor Sajid Javid also backed the presenter, calling the decision ‘ridiculous’ and adding Ms Munchetty’s reaction was ‘perfectly understandable’. 

Trump had tweeted that four high profile politicians should ‘go back’ to where they came from. 

A group of 150 black broadcasters, including Lenny Henry, pictured, have written a letter to the BBC to defend Ms Munchetty

Chancellor Sajid Javid also backed Ms Munchetty, claiming the BBC’s decision was ‘ridiculous’

Actor Adrian Lester, left, and Sky News presenter Gillian Joseph, right, are both among the signatories to the letter

Homeland star David Harewood, pictured, also supported Naga Munchetty by signing the letter, branding the BBC’s position as ‘ludicrous’ 

The letter was organised by journalist Afua Hirsch, who accused the BBC of ‘legitimising racism’ while appearing on the Victoria Derbyshire programme this morning, pictured

The letter, released to the media this morning, said: ‘We, the undersigned group of black people who work in the media and broadcasting in the UK, strongly condemn this finding and assert that it amounts to both a misunderstanding of the BBC’s editorial guidelines and a form of racially discriminatory treatment towards BAME people who work on programming.’

It added: ‘Racism is not a valid opinion on which an ‘impartial’ stance can or should be maintained;

‘For communities and individuals who experience racist abuse – including Munchetty – being expected to treat racist ideas as potentially valid has devastating and maybe illegal consequences for our dignity and ability to work in a professional environment, as well as being contrary to race equality and human rights legislation;

‘To suggest a journalist can ‘talk about her own experiences of racism’ while withholding a critique on the author of racism (in this case President Trump) has the ludicrous implication that such racism may be legitimate and should be contemplated as such.’

Who signed the Naga Munchetty letter? 

The signatories of the Naga Munchetty letter include: Afua Hirsch, Lenny Henry, Adrian Lester, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Gina Yashere, Hugh Woozencroft, Gillian Joseph, Michelle Matherson, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Elaine Dunkley, Amal Ahmed, Charlene White, Lina-Sirine Zitout, Marverine Cole, Tsedenia Skitch, Jayson Mansaray, Rabiya Limbada, Aaron Roach Bridgeman, Holly Henry-Long, Diana Evans, Anjana Ahuja, Katrina Marshall Beharry, Yemi Bamiro, Claire Clottey, Ayshah Tull, Shaista Aziz, Patrick Younge, Jamal Osman, Catherine Baksi, Liliane Landor, Bethel Tesfaye, Girish Juneja, Daniel Henry, Eno Adeogun, Dope Black Dads, Marvyn Harrison, Warren Nettleford, Nels Abbey, Henry Bonsu, Nisha Lahiri, Jordan Jarrett Bryan, Rowena Twesigye, Alex Murray, Asif Kapadia 

The signatories also said the BBC decision sets a dangerous precedent for BME employees in the future.

It said: ‘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.’ 

Former Channel 5 News presenter Marverine Cole also signed the letter and today tweeted her support for Ms Munchetty.

She wrote: ‘Together we stand. I signed this letter. Racism should be called out. It’s ridiculous when someone calling out racism is reprimanded.’

Marcus Ryder, Chief international editor of Chinese broadcaster CGTN Digital, added: ‘Proud to be signatory, along with over 150 other BAME broadcasters and journalists, demanding change following the Naga judgement that she broke BBC editorial guidelines.

‘Important that people know what we’re demanding: 1. BBC’s complaint unit reviews its judgement 

‘2. BBC management come out in support of Naga, its BAME staff & commitment to diversity 

‘3. All broadcast complaint bodies ECU, Ofcom etc should be represntatively (sic) diverse & transparent.’

Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, left, and comedienne Gina Yashere, right, also gave their support to Ms Munchetty

Former Sky and Channel 5 News presenter Marverine Cole also confirmed she had signed the letter and said it was ‘ridiculous someone calling out racism was reprimanded’

ITV News presenter Charlene White, left, and former CNN journalist Isha Sesay were also among the signatories 

Chinese broadcaster CGTN Digital intrnational editor Marcus Ryder also signed the letter and said the BBC had to change its guidelines 

But veteran broadcasters Andrew Marr and Alastair Stewart have backed the BBC and said TV newsreaders and reporters should not give their own views on topics they cover

But some other high profile broadcasters have supported the BBC and said impartiality is crucial for newsreaders when it comes to informing the public.

ITV presenter Alastair Stewart said: ‘It becomes increasingly difficult for the public to get their heads around what is happening in our politics if supposedly independent TV reporters keep giving us their views rather than the facts. In the ‘papers, it is fine; from broadcasters, it is wrong.’

BBC political presenter Andrew Marr added: ‘I agree with Alastair. Analysis fine, hard questions essential, but our views? Not wanted on voyage.’ 

‘Deeply flawed, illegal and contrary to the spirit of public broadcasting’: BME celebrities’ response to the BBC over its decision to reprimand Naga Munchetty  

Dear BBC

On 16 July 2019, President Trump tweeted that four congresswomen should ‘go back to the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’. 

All four congresswomen are people of colour, all four are US citizens and only Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was born overseas. 

These comments were widely acknowledged as racist in a broad spectrum of reputable international news outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, Sky News and the Guardian.

On 17 July 2019, Dan Walker, a host on BBC Breakfast, commented that a woman had shared a similar experience of being told to ‘go home’ and that he found that remark ‘telling’. 

Walker added that the person in question had never been told that by the ‘man sitting in the Oval Office’.

Walker asked his co-host Naga Munchetty how she felt, inviting personal commentary.

In response to these remarks, Munchetty shared her own experiences of being told ‘as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from’ and added, ‘That was embedded in racism. Now, I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.’

When asked by Walker how she felt about Trump’s remarks, she replied ‘furious’. 

‘Absolutely furious and 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.’

On 25 September, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) found Munchetty had breached the corporations guidelines in issuing this remark.

In a clarification of its decision-making, in response to widespread public criticism – including from an unprecedented number of black British entertainment and broadcasting figures – on 26 September it said: ‘[Munchetty] 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 … and it was for this reason that the complaint was partially upheld. Those judgments are for the audience to make.’

We, the undersigned group of black people who work in the media and broadcasting in the UK, strongly condemn this finding and assert that it amounts to both a misunderstanding of the BBC’s editorial guidelines and a form of racially discriminatory treatment towards BAME people who work on programming.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines allow for ‘professional judgment, rooted in evidence’, and require ‘cultural views in other communities’ to be taken into account. 

The ECU – which we believe does not reflect the diverse cultural views in the BAME communities in the UK – has failed to acknowledge the following:

  • Racism is not a valid opinion on which an ‘impartial’ stance can or should be maintained;
  • For communities and individuals who experience racist abuse – including Munchetty – being expected to treat racist ideas as potentially valid has devastating and maybe illegal consequences for our dignity and ability to work in a professional environment, as well as being contrary to race equality and human rights legislation;
  • To suggest a journalist can ‘talk about her own experiences of racism’ while withholding a critique on the author of racism (in this case President Trump) has the ludicrous implication that such racism may be legitimate and should be contemplated as such.

While we stand in support of Munchetty, the consequences of this decision are widespread with implications for the entire media landscape in the UK and those who work within it. 

The scope of its effect is already evidenced in the unprecedented number of BAME media figures who have openly and publicly voiced their condemnation on social media.

In addition, we note the number of BBC journalists who have contacted us privately to express their concern at the climate of fear at the organisation, their feeling of being censored and their apprehension at the consequences of their speaking out in support of this statement.

We demand that:

1. The ECU revisits and takes seriously overturning its decision;

2. BBC management issue their support for journalists and acknowledge there can be no expectation of ‘impartiality’ over expressions and experiences of racism;

3. The bodies that oversee complaints about broadcasting, including the ECU and Ofcom, address their own levels of diversity and increase transparency as to how they reach their decisions, and how that process takes place in a manner reflective of the diversity of the population.

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.

This letter is signed by: Afua Hirsch, Lenny Henry, Adrian Lester, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Gina Yashere, Hugh Woozencroft, Gillian Joseph, Michelle Matherson, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Elaine Dunkley, Amal Ahmed, Charlene White, Lina-Sirine Zitout, Marverine Cole, Tsedenia Skitch, Jayson Mansaray, Rabiya Limbada, Aaron Roach Bridgeman, Holly Henry-Long, Diana Evans, Anjana Ahuja, Katrina Marshall Beharry, Yemi Bamiro, Claire Clottey, Ayshah Tull, Shaista Aziz, Patrick Younge, Jamal Osman, Catherine Baksi, Liliane Landor, Bethel Tesfaye, Girish Juneja, Daniel Henry, Eno Adeogun, Dope Black Dads, Marvyn Harrison, Warren Nettleford, Nels Abbey, Henry Bonsu, Nisha Lahiri, Jordan Jarrett Bryan, Rowena Twesigye, Alex Murray, Asif Kapadia 

The BBC has justified its reprimand of Ms Munchetty for criticising Donald Trump for perceived ‘racism’, saying that she is not allowed to share her personal opinion.

The revelation of the letter came as the hashtag #IStandWithNaga was trending on Twitter, with members of the public supporting Ms Munchetty, claiming she should be able to ‘call out racism’.

The BBC has been accused of double standards by allowing other presenters to express their opinions such as veteran presenter John Simpson who said British people ‘must take a stand’ against the ‘hate and anger’ in the nation just two days ago.

The BBC’s reprimand of Ms Munchetty has led to an outpouring of support for her on social media, with the hashtag #IStandWithNaga trending on Twitter today

Her wrote on Twitter: ‘Things are so bad, so worrying, so filled with hate & anger that we must take a stand for who we are as a nation. We must support the rule of law, & demand decency & respect from our politicians. 

‘We must moderate the language of debate. And we must condemn anyone who doesn’t.’

BBC officials appear to have taken no action over those comments.

His tweet led to Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy mock the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) over their response to such opinions.

Mr Guru-Murthy wrote: ‘Hello John? John! Executive Complaints Unit here. The viewer must not know whether or not you support the rule of law, decency or respect…..What? Yes I know these are universally held values but on the other hand they may be bad things. John? Hello? Are you still there…?’

MailOnline has contacted the BBC for comment. 

The ECU ruled that the BBC Breakfast host breached editorial guidelines when she condemned comments made by the president after he told female Democrats to ‘go back’ to their own countries.

In a July 17 broadcast, Munchetty said that ‘every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism’, adding: ‘I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.’

BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty, right, was been criticised by BBC executives after she expressed her opinion on racism following a highly controversial tweet by Donald Trump

After being probed by her co-host Dan Walker for her thoughts, Munchetty said she was ‘absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it’s OK to skirt the lines by using language like that’.

The BBC ruling has been widely criticised, notably by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said that Munchetty ‘stated a fact’, and urged the BBC to ‘explain this astonishing decision’.

Following the backlash online, the BBC said in a statement: ‘President Trump’s comments that a number of female Democrat members of Congress should ‘go back’ to the ‘totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’ were widely condemned as racist, and we reported on this extensively.

‘We were always different from other Asian families’: Naga Munchetty on her upbringing in Britain 

The BBC said they had not disciplined Ms Munchetty for the guideline breach 

Naga Munchetty has previously spoken of how important her identity is to her. 

She was born in London in 1975 to a father from Mauritius and a mother from India.

Both moved to Wales in the 1970s to study, with her mother learning dentistry and her father training as a nurse. The pair fell in love but had to keep their relationship a secret from their parents initially because they had ‘come to learn, not find a partner’.

She has previously spoken of her strict upbringing and not being allowed to go to sleepovers at friends’ homes, although they were always welcome at her’s.

In a 2016 interview, she told the Guardian they were ‘always different’ from other Asian families because her parents were from different countries, but that the family would speak English at home because her mother felt they should ‘be part of the country’.

Ms Munchetty did not visit India until she was eight, or Mauritius until she was 12, and revealed she brought her English culture with her to her Indian grandmother, who learned how to cook chips for her when she turned down bhajias.

Although her mother was skeptical when she did a degree in English Literature, hoping she would become a doctor or lawyer, she says she is now her ‘number one fan’ and records her programmes daily. 

‘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.’

Ms Munchetty had earned plaudits for her decision to speak about her struggles and share her experiences of being told herself to ‘go back to your own country’.

The BBC’s former China editor Carrie Grace and Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan were among those who criticised the BBC decision and voiced support for Munchetty.

Ms Gracie tweeted: ‘#nagamunchetty 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.’

Morgan said: ‘Since the BBC will gag my breakfast show rival #BBCNaga from saying anything about this, allow me: It’s bloody ridiculous.

‘Her words were powerful & necessary. Shameful censorship.’

Labour MP David Lammy called the BBC decision ‘appalling’.

‘If the BBC won’t let its journalists call blatant, unashamed racism what it is, it is complicit in that racism,’ he tweeted.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said the BBC ‘has got it very wrong’ over its ruling.

‘All broadcasters, and in particular the BBC a public service broadcaster, should call out racism. It is not a matter of opinion – it is wrong,’ NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said.

‘Of course, (Munchetty) was right to say she was furious with the President’s language and what it meant.

‘The BBC has got it very wrong – BBC journalists should not be prohibited from commenting on evidently racist language, especially at a time when racist rhetoric is having a real impact on people’s lives.’ 

Ms Munchetty has not commented on the row.  

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