BBC director-general: ‘We admire Naga Munchetty for speaking out on racism’

The row over a ruling against the BBC Breakfast presenter’s Donald Trump comments continues

BBC Breakfast

The backlash to the BBC’s censuring of presenter Naga Munchetty for comments about Donald Trump and racism continues, with the corporation facing more and more criticism for upholding a complaint against Munchetty earlier this week while director-general Tony Hall admits he “admires” her words in a new letter to staff.

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The BBC Breakfast presenter was ruled to have “breached editorial guidelines” when describing herself as “absolutely furious” about the US President’s language when he told four congresswomen of colour to “go home,” citing her own experience of racism when people had used that phrase in her presence.

The official finding suggested that Munchetty was wrong to comment critically on the possible motives behind the President’s words, stating that “Judgments of that kind are for the audience to make, and the exchange fell short of due impartiality in that respect” – but many inside and outside the BBC have reacted in anger to the decision.

So far, dozens of prominent BAME media figures including Lenny Henry and Adrian Lester have written an open letter supporting Naga, many of her BBC colleagues have defied instructions to stay quiet to criticise their employer instead, media regulator Ofcom has started their own parallel assessment of the incident and 40 Labour MPs have written a letter to BBC director Tony Hall.

And now Hall and the BBC executive committee have responded to the crisis in a new letter to staff suggesting the ruling has been largely misunderstood.

“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 letter reads.

Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC (Getty Images)
Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC (Getty Images)

“We completely back her in saying ‘as a woman of colour, to go back where I came from, that was embedded in racism’. She was speaking honestly and from the heart about her own experiences. We admire 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 letter continues.

“The BBC is not impartial on racism. Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism.”

The letter is unlikely to defuse matters, however. While Munchetty has maintained silence about the matter many others have expressed fury at the BBC’s handling of the row, with Labour MP Clive Lewis filing a motion to allow MPs to object to the ruling in the House of Commons and comedian Nish Kumar summing up a lot of people’s reactions in an interview on BBC Newsnight.

“Racism to me is like gravity,” Kumar said. “There is a position that is correct and a position that is incorrect.

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“I can speak for myself, friends and family… I am sick and tired of our continued existence being something that is up for debate.”