BBC and Naga Munchetty: You got this wrong!


It’s difficult for powerful people and their institutions such as the BBC to say: ‘actually we got this one wrong, we’ve reviewed this thoroughly and we’d like to reverse our decision’.

That would be grown up politics, a sensible way to stop the ever growing distrust and disdain BAME viewers and listeners have towards BBC bosses. It would also open a greater dialogue for more pressing issues such as BAME underpay and lack of promotion.

At the centre of this problem is the BBC assertion that is okay to call out the racist comment by President Donald Trump, but it’s not okay to go on to say, ‘he’s a racist’. For that she’s been reprimanded. BBC bosses stated that ‘our own guideline say that we cannot give an opinion’. Two points here, one minor, the other major. First, it was her colleague Dan Walters who invited Munchetty to give reason why Trump should make these racist comments, but to the more substantive point between opinion and fact, when some makes a comment that is deemed racist it is true that the offender might not be racist. Carol Thatcher somewhat naively likened a Black French tennis player to her cherished golliwog doll, the BBC fired Thatcher not because of the comment, which was not racially motivated, but for the fact she wouldn’t apologise for offence caused.

But what happens when there is no ambiguity about motive, surely it then becomes a matter of fact. Therefore, if there is racial abuse once, maybe twice, even –at a stretch-a third time, we can’t be sure about motive or who this person really is, but if they are a serial offender then we’re in the clear realm to call it as it is:

1. His targeting of the four Congress women of colour to, ‘go back home’ is well documented as being racist.

2. Referring to poor Black countries such as Haiti as ‘shitholes, racist.

3. Claiming all 1.6 billion Muslims hate the US, racist.

4. Calling all Mexican immigrants, rapists, racist

5. Suggesting that White supremist where the same as the protesters against them were the same, racist .

6. Attacking Black NFL players kneeling against racism, racist.

I’ve highlighted very big incidents but there another ten at least that could be added to this list. So we’re not in the ambiguous-grey area of whether or not the accumulative evidence suggests a matter of fact.

The same could be easily said about Trump’s behaviour towards women. Would feminists say, ' it is just not clear whether Trump’s behaviour towards women amount to him being labelled a sexist?

In the BBC case their refusal to contemplate admitting ‘we got this one wrong’, has opened a bigger wound about how staff are treated by BBC bosses. Bosses will now have to confront the unequivocal fact that BAME staff, particularly senior staff are paid less than their peers are in terms of status and jobs, less valued, and now they are being deterred from calling out racist and persistent prejudice.

The BBC would do well to meet with senior staff and outsiders who have the interest of the BBC at heart, and use this moment to reflect upon what’s gone wrong with the Naga Munchetty row, but also deal with the other very important issues regarding underpay and lack of progression for BAME staff.

The only question is, is the BBC big enough to have an adult conversation about race?

Simon Woolley