BBC staff told not to join protests backing Munchetty – report

Minority staff and presenters at the BBC have been told by the corporation not to join in any form of protest supporting presenter Naga Munchetty, it is reported.

The paper quotes Trevor Phillips, broadcaster and former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as saying the BBC had instructed staff to not sign any petition or letter supporting Ms Munchetty, a move Mr Phillips says could lead to claims of harassment.

This comes after stars including comedian Sir Lenny Henry complained to the BBC, in a letter published in the Guardian, over its rebuking of Ms Munchetty for saying US president Donald Trump's call for a group of female Democrats to go back to their own countries was "embedded in racism."

A petition calling on the BBC to reverse its judgement on Ms Munchetty has attracted more than 7,000 signatures.

"BBC minority staff are being told not to sign the letter or any petition and to stay clear of this one," Mr Phillips told The Sunday Times.

He added such warnings would breach the 2010 Equality Act, meaning staff could have a claim for harassment.

"The first thing the director-general has to do is tell managers to back off," Mr Phillips told the paper.

A letter to the corporation, signed by Sir Lenny, Gina Yashere, Adrian Lester and dozens of other high profile black Britons, told the BBC its position in rebuking Ms Munchetty was "deeply flawed" and "illegal".

It also said certain signatories to the letter had been contacted separately by number of BBC journalists to "express their concern at a climate of fear" at the organisation.

In upholding a complaint against Ms Munchetty, the BBC ruled she had crossed a line on editorialising when in a July breakfast broadcast she commented on the statements directed by Mr Trump towards politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.

Ms Munchetty told 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".

In upholding the complaint the BBC said: "Overall her comments went beyond what the guidelines allow for."

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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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Subsequently, the BBC's Executive Committee was moved to send a message to employees clarifying its stance on the case and on racism – saying Ms Munchetty she was justified in saying that telling someone to go back home was racist.

The message said in part: "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."

Many 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 BBC's "perverse" decision.

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