More than 40 black and ethnic minority British media and entertainment figures have signed an open letter condemning the BBC’s decision to uphold a complaint against Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty.
Signatories to the letter, who include the writer Afua Hirsch, Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy and entertainer Lenny Henry, say the BBC’s position is “illegal” and “deeply flawed”.
The BBC has said it believes the letter is “based on a misunderstanding of the editorial guidelines and how they apply”.
The BBC’s executive complaints unit found Munchetty (pictured) breached its strict rules on impartiality in her comments about a tweet by US President Donald Trump during a BBC Breakfast show in July.
Trump had said four ethnic minority congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” in a comment that was widely condemned as racist.
In a brief exchange with co-host Dan Walker, Munchetty said such comments were “embedded in racism”.
“Every time I have been told as a woman of colour to ‘go home’, to ‘go back to where I came from’ that was embedded in racism,” she said.
“Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) July 17, 2019
The ECU’s findings, published in full today, say it was “entirely legitimate” for Munchetty to reflect on her “own experience of racism and the racist context in which suggestions that people from ethnic minorities should go back to their own countries are generally made”.
“However,” it added, “she went on to comment critically on the possible motive for, and potential consequences of, the President’s words.
“Judgements of that kind are for the audience to make, and the exchange fell short of due impartiality in that respect.”
The decision, reported in the press this week, prompted criticism online from a number of journalists including those at the BBC who said there was “bewilderment” and “unease” at the ruling.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also tweeted his support for Munchetty, saying: “Telling people to ‘go back’ to ‘places from which they came’ is racist. Naga Munchetty stated a fact.”
He called for the BBC to “explain this astonishing decision”.
In the open letter, published by the Guardian today, the 44 signatories say they “strongly condemn” the BBC’s finding.
They say 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”.
They state that racism is “not a valid opinion on which an ‘impartial’ stance can or should be maintained”.
The signatories demand that the ECU “revisits and takes seriously overturning its decision”.
The letter also calls on BBC management to acknowledge there “can be no expectation of ‘impartiality’ over expressions and experiences of racism” and for broadcast regulators to “address their own levels of diversity and increase transparency as to how they reach their decisions…”.
The letter adds: “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.”
Munchetty has not publicly spoken about the decision against her.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We’ve seen the letter, but believe it is based on a misunderstanding of the editorial guidelines and how they apply.
“As we said 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’.
“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.”