BBC faces growing backlash over Munchetty ruling

The BBC is facing a growing backlash over a decision to rebuke Naga Munchetty, with Sir Lenny Henry, Gina Yashere and Adrian Lester among the latest to criticise the corporation.

Dozens of prominent black Britons have written to the BBC saying their position is "deeply flawed" and "illegal".

A letter to the broadcaster in the Guardian and signed by Sir Lenny, Yashere, Lester and dozens of others, said: "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."

The BBC upheld a complaint against Munchetty, who said in a July 17 BBC Breakfast broadcast that President Donald Trump's call for a group of female Democrats to "go back" to their own countries was "embedded in racism".

Figures from the world of broadcasting and politics have spoken out on the decision – and broadcasting watchdog Ofcom will also assess what was said against its own broadcasting rules.

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

A number of BBC figures have aired their views on the saga, with BBC Five Live presenter Nihal Arthanayake tweeting: "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."

And Carrie Gracie, the corporation's former China editor who entered into a well-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.

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Naga Munchetty attending the Virgin Media BAFTA TV awards, held at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Naga Munchetty and Sophie Rayworth attending the Virgin Media BAFTA TV awards, held at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Photo credit should read: Doug Peters/EMPICS
Naga Munchetty, Aaron Fellowes, Louis Theroux and Sophie Rayworth in the press room during the Virgin Media BAFTA TV awards, held at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Photo credit should read: Doug Peters/EMPICS
BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty
BBC Breakfast presenter Charlie Stayt (centre), Louis Minchin (left) and Naga Munchetty (right)
Naga Munchetty at The TRIC Awards (Television and Radio Industries Club Awards) at Grosvenor House, Park Lane (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Naga Munchetty attending the TRIC Awards 2019 50th Birthday Celebration held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London.
RETRANSMITTED CORRECTING DATE Naga Munchetty (left) and an unidentified woman arriving at Chiltern Firehouse in London to celebrate Kylie Minogue's 50th birthday.
Naga Munchetty attending the BAFTA Craft Awards at the Brewery in London.
Naga Munchetty attending the TRIC Awards 50th Birthday held at The Grosvenor House Hotel, London. Picture Credit Should Read: Doug Peters/EMPICS
BBC Breakfast presenters Mike Bushell, Louise Minchin, Dan Walker, Naga Munchetty, Carol Kirkwood and Sally Nugent attending the National Television Awards 2017 held at the O2, London. Photo credit should read: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment
Naga Munchetty, Ben Thompson, Carol Kirkwood and Charlie Stayt attending the 2017 Television and Radio Industries Club Awards, Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London.
Naga Munchetty attending The Pride of Britain Awards 2016, at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London. Photo credit should read: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment
Naga Munchetty at the launch of Strictly Come Dancing 2016 at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire. Picture date: Tuesday August 30, 2016. Photo credit should read: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment
Naga Munchetty at the launch of Strictly Come Dancing 2016 at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire. Picture date: Tuesday 30th August, 2016. See PA story SHOWBIZ Strictly. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire.
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"Risk of double standards on big Qs of race + gender. BBC, sort yourself out."

The Executive Committee of the broadcaster sent a message to employees making clear its stance on Ms Munchetty's case and racism – saying that she was justified in saying that telling someone to go back home was racist.

It said: "You will have heard a lot of comment over the past few days about the BBC and the reporting of racism.

"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."

The message has been sent to all BBC staff on behalf of the Executive Committee, which includes Lord Hall.

It followed a decision by the BBC to uphold a complaint, in part, for an on-air conversation following the controversial comments by Mr Trump directed at politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.

It was ruled that Ms Munchetty crossed the line when she commented on statements made by Mr Trump.

She told her co-presenter Dan Walker: "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 Mr Walker, she 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 initially commented saying: "Overall her comments went beyond what the guidelines allow for."

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