The BBC should reverse their Naga Munchetty judgement

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On Wednesday 25th September the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit officially found that BBC Breakfast’s presenter Naga Munchetty had breached the corporation’s impartiality guidelines by offering a personal opinion on President Donald Trump’s retort to four congresswoman of colour to "go back" to the "places from which they came".

In a discussion with her co-host she said every time she, as a woman of colour, had been told to “go back to where she came from” these comments had been “embedded with racism.” 

The Editorial Complaints Unit’s decision is wrong, and has three implications.

First, the decision suggests a serious lack of diversity in the organisation. It demonstrates that even with a limited increase in diversity in certain areas it does not seem to have been matched with a similar increase in inclusion.

Second, the decision, if not handled properly, could have a seriously negative effect on BAME (Black Asian & Minority Ethnic) staff working in the organisation.

Third, if the most senior levels of management do not respond publicly to the decision, it may well have a seriously negative effect on the BBC’s reputation and credibility vis-a-vis large parts of its audience for years to come.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines do not give you hard and fast rules. It gives you a helpful framework to think through editorial decisions. And as a framework it is literally second to none.

Furthermore, as a woman of colour, it could be argued that Naga was not just expressing a personal opinion but was providing a “professional judgement, rooted in evidence”, it was precisely why her white co-host asked her opinion and how it made her feel. 

What should the BBC do?

Surprisingly I think the BBC could use the ECU’s decision as an opportunity to build trust as well as strengthen its diversity and inclusion.

All – senior members of the BBC should make their position clear and come out internally in support of Naga.

I also suggest senior management goes further, so as to ensure public credibility. Ideally, the most senior levels of BBC should make a public statement about the ECU’s decision, and use this as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of diversity and inclusion at all points of the organisation.

We are from today setting a specific target that by 2022 15% of the ECU’s staff should come from a BAME background, 50% should be women and 18% should be disabled to accurately reflect British society as a whole, and we also commit to ensure other aspects of diversity from regionality to sexuality are also accurately represented.