This interview is part of our BAFTA 2020 special for more visit The Big Interview hub.
For BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty, the working day begins at 5am — with an analysis of her boss’s wardrobe. “There’s always a quick appraisal of what I’m wearing,” says assistant editor Mark Grannell, to which Munchetty replies, “Yes, but it’s always complimentary! He’s very well dressed. Though he did do double-denim once and that didn’t fly with me…”
One other thing with which Munchetty can find fault are the headlines, which will be debated in the hour before the show goes live at six o’clock: “Yes, I do come in and tear apart the headlines. But we disagree agreeably — what we all want is for the news to be accurate but also impactful.”
What sets Breakfast apart from the other BBC bulletins is its informality. “We’re not the Today programme on television,” says Grannell. “Depending on what the main news is, we try and inject a bit of light into the shade. The interaction between the presenters is really important.”
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But there are risks in having such a relaxed atmosphere, as Munchetty discovered last year when she expressed anger at US president Donald Trump’s choice of words in telling four congresswomen to “go back home”. In September, the BBC decided that she’d breached guidelines, only for a public outcry that then led director-general Tony Hall to reverse the ruling.
Her Breakfast colleague Dan Walker told Radio Times that the BBC’s defence of Munchetty should have been more robust — does she agree? “There are lessons to be learnt. The Breakfast team was very supportive at the time and, since then, I’ve had regular conversations with Tony Hall and other BBC bosses. My whole strategy was to just keep my head down because I didn’t want to be the story.”
When asked whether it’s made her more circumspect about what she says on air, Munchetty insists that “it’s absolutely business as usual.”
On the emotive issue, Grannell adds, “Naga’s a tough cookie, so she can look after herself. But I think the Breakfast team is very protective of her, as a colleague. And, on a human level, my sympathy was with Naga.”
And how do the pair feel about the thorny issue of the licence fee? “It’s not for me to make this case,” insists Grannell. “All I’ll say is that coverage of coronavirus is a prime example of what’s so good about the BBC, right across the board.”
“There’s been noise about the licence fee for decades,” says Munchetty. “But at Breakfast, we’re not ratings-driven, we’re not there to garner attention on social media. We’re there to provide a service and make sure people are informed, educated and entertained. I think a licence is worth that.”
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