The BBC faces a growing backlash and calls to overturn its decision to reprimand an anchor for her comments about US President Donald Trump.
The UK broadcaster said this week that morning show anchor Naga Munchetty broke its editorial rules when she appeared to assign a racist motive to a July tweet by Trump that said four US lawmakers — all women of color -— should “go back” to the “places from which they came.”
Controversy over the decision to reprimand Munchetty deepened Friday when the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards, David Jordan, said it’s “probably unwise” for the BBC to label people as liars or racists.
News organizations around the world have struggled with questions over how to handle comments made by the American president. Some media outlets routinely label Trump a racist and a liar, while others are more circumspect.
Trouble at the BBC
The controversy at the BBC started on July 17 when Munchetty and her co-anchor Dan Walker discussed Trump’s tweet and Munchetty’s experience as a woman of color.
Munchetty said: “Every time I have 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.”
She added that she imagined “lots of people” in the United Kingdom would be feeling “absolutely furious … that a man in that position feels it’s okay to skirt the lines with using language like that.”
On Wednesday, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit said it was “entirely legitimate” for Munchetty to discuss “her own experience of racism and the racist context” for remarks similar to those made by Trump.
But the body partially upheld a viewer complaint against Munchetty because she “went on to comment critically on the possible motive for, and potential consequences of, the president’s words.”
“Judgments of that kind are for the audience to make, and the exchange fell short of due impartiality in that respect,” it concluded.
Trump has denied his attacks on the four US Congresswomen were racist.
The outrage was swift, with journalists at the BBC and its competitors calling out the network for the reprimand — and for seemingly ignoring her white co-anchor’s part in the conversation.
More than 40 figures in media, the arts and broadcasting signed an open letter calling on the BBC to overturn its decision.
“You’ve got a hell of job to do with non-white members of staff and indeed lots of members of the public who are outraged,” BBC radio anchor Nick Robinson told Jordan during a BBC interview broadcast Friday.
Jordan said that many people were misinterpreting the decision, saying it was “perfectly acceptable” for Munchetty to describe the phrases used by Trump as “clearly racist.”
The problem arose when Munchetty appeared to assign “motivations” for why Trump wrote the tweet.
“In the politics of the present, where we are into politics of name calling and insult … I think it’s probably unwise for the BBC to get ourselves into a position where we’re calling out people for being liars or being racist,” Jordan said.
“What is really important is that we look at the things that people say, that we analyze them, that we describe them objectively and as analytically as we can and we call them out for what they are at the time,” he explained.
“So if someone has told a lie we expose it for a lie,” he added. “If someone has made a racist remark, we make sure that people are aware that that language is inherently racist.”
The full decision from the Executive Complaints Unit is expected to be published in the coming weeks. A BBC report said that Munchetty is not expected to face any punishment.