The BBC has upheld a complaint against its flagship news show presenter, Naga Munchetty, for an apparent breach of the broadcaster’s strict impartiality guidelines after she criticised comments made by US President Donald Trump on air.
Munchetty, born Subha Nagalakshmi Munchetty-Chendriah to an Indian mother and Mauritian father, hosts the regular ‘BBC Breakfast’ show and back in July she reacted to Trump’s “go back” comments in reference to four female American politicians.
In July, Trump made racist comments apparently against Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
In a tweet, he said they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
“Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism,” the journalist said in a discussion with her co-host while reporting on the story.
“Now, I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean,” she said, adding that even though it made her furious she was not there to give her opinion on the matter.
The corporation said its editorial guidelines “do not allow for journalists to… give their opinions about the individual making the remarks or their motives for doing so – in this case President Trump”.
Its statement issued in response to a complaint addressed by the corporation’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) notes: “It was for this reason that the complaint was partially upheld. Those judgements are for the audience to make.”
On Friday, over 40 of the UK’s popular broadcast personalities issued an open letter calling for the BBC to reconsider its ruling.
“We, the undersigned group of black people who work in the media and broadcasting in the UK, strongly condemn this finding and assert that it amounts to both a misunderstanding of the BBC’s editorial guidelines, and a form of racially discriminatory treatment towards BAME [black and minority ethnic] people who work on programming,” notes the open letter.
Amid criticism, the BBC further explained its stance: “Ms Munchetty had been pressed to comment by her co-presenter and had a legitimate, personal reason for feeling strongly on this issue. She was therefore in our view entitled to give a personal response to the phrase “go to back to your own country”, as it was rooted in her own experience of racism and in a generally accepted interpretation of that phrase.
“But it is also evident that Ms Munchetty, despite at the end of the exchange acknowledging ‘I am not here to give my opinion’, did comment directly and critically on the possible motive for, and potential consequences of, the president’s conduct, which by their nature were a matter for legitimate discussion and debate.”
However, the broadcaster has come under severe criticism from a wide range of media professionals as well as Opposition Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn for upholding the complaint.
“Telling people to ‘go back’ to ‘places from which they came’ is racist. Naga Munchetty stated a fact,” said Corbyn in a Twitter statement on Thursday.
“She shared experiences of racism she’s suffered. That can’t be at odds with any editorial guidelines. The BBC must explain this astonishing decision,” he said.
Fellow Indian-origin news anchor, Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy, said in a tweet, “when you think about what those (mostly) older white men have got away with saying on the BBC and Twitter day after day this is a quite perplexing finding.”
Munchetty is not believed to be facing any formal action or reprimand from the BBC as a result of the episode.