Backlash continues against BBC over Naga Munchetty racism row as big names join in criticism

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Journalist and television presenter Naga Munchetty talks during the Federation of Small Businesses Conference 2013 at The Curve, Leicester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 22, 2013. Photo credit should read: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
The BBC has come under fire for its treatment of presenter Naga Munchetty (Picture: Joe Giddens/PA)

The backlash against the BBC over its treatment of presenter Naga Munchetty is continuing to grow, with Sir Lenny Henry, Gina Yashere and Adrian Lester among the latest to join in criticism of the corporation.

In an open letter to the Guardian, the group of “people of colour who work in the media and broadcasting in the UK” said the BBC position was “deeply flawed, illegal and contrary to the spirit and purpose of public broadcasting”.

The move comes after the BBC upheld a complaint against Munchetty, who said in a BBC Breakfast broadcast on July 17 that Donald Trump’s call for a group of female Democrats to “go back” to their own countries was “embedded in racism”.

The organisation upheld a complaint, in part, about the on-air conversation between Munchetty and fellow presenter Dan Walker, saying she had crossed the line with her comments about Mr Trump.

The decision has sparked a backlash, with figures from the world of broadcasting and politics speaking out on the decision.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 06: Sir Lenny Henry arrives at Downing Street in central London as representatives of film and television industry deliver a letter to No.10 calling for tax breaks to increase the representation of women, BAME and disabled people working behind the camera. November 06, 2018 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Sir Lenny Henry is among signatories of an open letter to the BBC (Picture: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

In the open letter to the BBC published in the Guardian, Sir Lenny and dozens of others said the BBC’s current position would have a profound effect on future diversity within the BBC.

The signatories added: "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."


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Chancellor Sajid Javid tweeted that the situation was "ridiculous", adding: "It's perfectly understandable why she said what she did", while Labour's Clive Lewis tabled an early day motion in Parliament condemning the "perverse" decision.

BBC figures have also aired their views, including BBC Five Live presenter Nihal Arthanayake who tweeted: "So my understanding of the BBC ruling is that if a public figure called me a 'Paki' I could tell you that what they had said was racist but I couldn't say that aforementioned public figure was a racist. I'm glad we cleared that up."

The BBC’s former China editor Carrie Gracie, who was involved in a highly-publicised dispute over equal pay, said: "#BBC ed guidelines important but must apply equally. Can't reprimand woman of colour but smile on opinionating white men.

"Risk of double standards on big Qs of race + gender. BBC, sort yourself out."

Following its ruling, the BBC’s Executive Committee sent a message to employees clarifying its stance on Ms Munchetty's case and racism.

It said: "The BBC is not impartial on racism. Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism.

"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."

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Hispanic Heritage Month reception at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Munchetty's comments related to Donald Trump telling four female democrats to "go home" (Picture: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

In the original on-air conversation with Walker, 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," adding: "I'm not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean."

Questioned further by her colleague, she said she was "absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it's OK to skirt the lines by using language like that".

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