Emma Barnett has responded after actress Kelechi Okafor pulled out of appearing on Woman’s Hour saying what she witnessed was “absolutely degrading and vile”.
Okafor was due to speak to Barnett – who is three days into her new job as host of the BBC Radio 4 programme – about the Me Too movement and why it is still needed among marginalised communities.
However, on Wednesday, she tweeted saying she had decided not to appear after overhearing Barnett “talking shit about me to the producers” while coming online for the slot.
Okafor, who has appeared in a number of TV adverts, is reported to have said it was wrong for the presenter Reggie Yates to apologise for comments he made about Jewish people in 2017, which led him to step down as a host of Top Of The Pops.
During a podcast appearance, Yates had praised upcoming musicians for being managed by “their brethren” rather than “some random fat Jewish guy from north-west London”.
Barnett subsequently replied to Okafor in a message posted to Twitter.
She said: “Just before I went on air this morning to present a special programme about Me Too – pegged to the anniversary of Harvey Weinstein’s court case – it came to my attention that one of our guests, Kelechi Okafor, had made alleged anti-Semitic remarks.
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“I was also sent a press report of the transcript of what she had said on her podcast supporting Reggie Yates’s comments about Jewish male managers and profits.
“As Weinstein is also Jewish and was referenced as part of this same podcast, I was discussing with my producers the role of this guest in light of her allegedly anti-Semitic comments. Kelechi overheard that chat on our open Zoom link – with two minutes to airtime.
“I then directly talked to Kelechi about the allegations, standing by my queries, and said she could put her response across in the programme. She denied the allegations and hung up, choosing to no longer be part of the programme.
“I stand by my questions to my team and to Kelechi. I would have happily hosted her on the programme with a question on this issue.”
Barnett said her guests were “entitled to make their own decisions about whether to appear on a programme” but that she wanted to add “some detail” to the accounts circulating on social media.
On Monday, she took over hosting the popular Radio 4 show from Jane Garvey and Dame Jenni Murray, who both stepped down last year.
Writing on Twitter after pulling out of the show on Wednesday morning, Okafor told her followers: “Hi guys I’m coming off woman’s hour because what I’ve just had to witness is absolutely degrading and vile.
“The host didn’t realise her mic was on as she was talking about me before the interview started is all I’m going to say.
“You can have a genuine concern about something you’ve been told about me and address it in a manner that is kind. That wasn’t what took place. Myself and the other people who would be talking during the segment could hear me being talked about like a dickhead.”
Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, also appeared on the show and claimed to have also heard “the appalling treatment” of Okafor.
A statement posted on the charity’s Twitter account said: “I was also booked for @BBCWomansHour this AM and heard the appalling treatment @kelechnekoff was subjected to minutes b4 broadcast; it was really unfair and then led to a #MeToo discussion with no black woman’s voice. Woman’s Hour shd apologise to her and really must do better.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “During an off-air conversation ahead of the programme, Emma Barnett and the production team talked about a guest’s role in the discussion and how to reflect some of the guest’s alleged previous comments and the issue of anti-Semitism as part of the Woman’s Hour discussion on the role of minority voices in the MeToo movement.
“This was also raised directly with the guest before going on air.”
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