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Naga Munchetty: BBC not impartial on racism, senior bosses say

Naga Munchetty

Image caption

Naga Munchetty has been a presenter on BBC Breakfast for the last 10 years

The BBC has said it is not impartial on racism after a backlash over its decision to file a complaint against Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty.

In an email to staff, director general Tony Hall and other bosses said: "Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism."

She said part of the complaint about her comments on racism was rejected.

Earlier, dozens of black actors and broadcasters called on the BBC to overturn its decision.

On Wednesday, Munchetty's presenter was found by the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) to have breached the corporation's guidelines by criticizing US President Donald Trump's motives after he said four female politicians should "go back" to "places from which they came".

The corporation said its editorial guidelines "do not allow journalists to … give their opinions about the individual making remarks or their motives for doing so – in this case President Trump."

She was not found in the breach for "calling out racist comments, which is perfectly acceptable where things are clearly framed in racist language", the BBC's head of editorial standards has said.

Munchetty is not facing any disciplinary action or reprimand.

She received messages of support from both inside and outside the BBC following ECU's ruling.

  • BBC urged to reconsider Munchetty decision
  • BBC gives more detail on Naga Munchetty ruling

'We admire her for it'

The email from the BBC's Executive Committee – which includes Lord Hall's director general and news and current affairs director Fran Unsworth – tells all staff: "You will have heard a lot of comments over the past few days about the BBC and reporting on 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 fully within her rights to speak about Donald Trump's tweets that have been widely condemned as racist.

"We totally back her in saying, 'as a woman of color, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism'.

"She was speaking honestly and from the heart about her own experiences. We admired her for it and she was completely justified in doing so.

"The very limited finding was not about Naga's comments on racism. That part of the complaint was rejected."

The email added: "Diversity matters hugely. The BBC's success is built on the quality and diversity of our people. That is not negotiable."

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Media captionWriter Afua Hirsch: "The ruling legitimizes racist opinion."

Earlier, an open letter was published from 44 stars including Sir Lenny Henry and Gina Yashere, demanding the broadcaster "revisit and take seriously its decision".

They called for BBC management to "issue their support for journalists and acknowledge that there can be no expectation of 'impartiality' over expressions and experiences of racism".

The writer Afua Hirsch, who helped organize the letter, said she was "shocked and horrified" by the BBC's ruling.

She added: "It's ludicrous to say it's fine for a presenter to express her own experience of racism but she shouldn't cast judgment on the person being racist."

Meanwhile, on Twitter the hashtag #IStandWithNaga was one of the top trends on the UK site on Friday, with Chancellor Sajid Javid and Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn criticizing the BBC's decision.

What did Naga Munchetty say in the first place?

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Media captionThis exchange, broadcast on July 17, sparked the complaint

Munchetty and BBC Breakfast co-presenter Dan Walker had the exchange after an interview with a supporter of Mr Trump on 17 July.

Walker: It's the president. That was the most telling quote for me last night. I can't remember who said it, but she said, 'I've been told to go home many times to go back to where I've come from many times in my life, but never by the man sitting in the Oval Office. '.

Munchetty: Every time I've been told, as a woman of color, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism. Now I'm not accusing anyone of anything here but you know what certain phrases mean.

Walker: Do you hear that quite regularly?

Munchetty: Yes. Not regularly, but I've been told it.

Walker: You're not sitting here giving an opinion, but how do you feel when you've been told that before, and when you've heard that from him?

Munchetty: Furious. Absolutely furious. And I imagine a lot of people in this country would be absolutely furious that someone in that position feels it's OK to skirt the lines using language like that.

Walker: Do you feel his use of that then legitimizes other people to use this…

Munchetty: Yes. Yes.

Walker: As our guest was saying there, it feels like a thought-out strategy to strengthen his position.

Munchetty: And it's not enough to just get attention. He's in a responsible position. Anyway I'm not here to give my opinion.

The BBC did not take action against Walker because he was not the subject of any complaints, said David Jordan, the BBC's chief of editorial standards.

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