John Humphrys: BBC was in a ‘muddle’ over Naga Munchetty controversy

Former Today host John Humphrys has waded into the Naga Munchetty row, describing the BBC’s handling of the controversy as a “muddle”.

The broadcaster’s chief Lord Hall recently overturned a ruling by the BBC’s executive complaints unit (ECU) that Munchetty’s comments about Donald Trump breached editorial guidelines.

“I think muddle is exactly the right word,” Humphrys told Good Morning Britain.

Radio presenter John Humphrys
Radio presenter John Humphrys (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

He told the ITV show: “If Naga wants to say, as a woman of colour, ‘This has happened to me, this is my experience’, she is absolutely entitled to say that.

“She is not offering an opinion. She is stating a fact.

“‘It is difficult,’ she said in essence, ‘sometimes to be a woman of colour in this country…’

“I want to hear that but I don’t want to hear her then offering her analysis of Trump’s motivation. That isn’t the job but she didn’t then do a detailed analysis”, he said of the BBC Breakfast presenter.

Humphrys spoke to Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid
Humphrys spoke to Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid (Ian West/PA)

Humphrys, who bowed out of Today last month, said: “She was invited to offer a few thoughts and I suppose if we were all utterly … above reproach in every respect, and she was wearing a little halo, she (might have) said, ‘I don’t think that I can entertain that thought because this isn’t for presenters to do’.

“But you know, come on, she’s human. It would have been dull, it would have been slightly silly.

“I don’t think she did anything terribly wrong.”

Humphrys told Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid: “On the other hand, maybe some of the bosses were right when they said, ‘This is a bit here and a bit there’.

BBC director-general Lord Hall
BBC director-general Lord Hall (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“Maybe some of the bosses were right when they said they, not she, stepped over the line a wee bit but sometimes lines are stepped over.”

The BBC faced a backlash in the days after the ECU ruling and several prominent black and Asian journalists and broadcasters called for the decision to be reversed.

After reviewing the ECU decision himself, Lord Hall said: “I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.

“There was never any sanction against Naga and I hope this step makes that absolutely clear.”

But former BBC chairman Lord Grade told Newsnight: “I don’t care who it alienated, the BBC’s impartiality is sacrosanct and the BBC has to defend that.

“The day it concedes anything in the way of impartiality, spells the end of BBC journalism.”

Munchetty has not yet commented and is due to return to present BBC Breakfast on Thursday alongside Charlie Stayt.

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