BBC director general Tony Hall has stepped in to reverse the company’s decision to reprimand a presenter over comments she made about Donald Trump following a five-day-long backlash against the UK broadcaster.
In a move the BBC hopes will calm a story that has been raging in the British press, Hall said he personally reviewed the complaint about BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty and found there was no case to answer.
In an email to staff late Monday in London, Hall said: “In this instance, I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.
“There was never any sanction against Naga and I hope this step makes that absolutely clear. She is an exceptional journalist and presenter and I am proud that she works for the BBC.”
During a July broadcast of BBC Breakfast, Munchetty took issue with a now-infamous Trump tweet, in which he called on U.S. congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib to “go back to the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Asked on air how she felt about the tweet, she said: “Absolutely furious and I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it’s OK to skirt the lines by using language like that.”
The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit ruled last week that Munchetty’s comments “fell short of due impartiality” because she responded “critically on the possible motive for, and potential consequences of, the president’s words.” The BBC is bound by strict broadcasting impartiality rules in the UK, meaning presenters are not allowed to take positions on topical issues like in the U.S., where Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity are known for their partisan rants on air.
The Executive Complaints Unit’s ruling sparked outrage, with black, Asian and minority ethnic broadcasters and journalists writing to the BBC on Friday asking it to reverse the decision. Politicians, including the UK’s home secretary Sajid Javid, also ridiculed the decision.
In reversing the ruling, Hall said he had looked “carefully at all the arguments that have been made and assessed all of the materials,” including the original complaint. He added that findings like the one against Munchetty are “finely balanced and difficult judgements.”
Here’s Hall’s full email to staff:
The Executive Complaints Unit ruling has sparked an important debate about racism and its interpretation.
Racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic. There was never a finding against Naga for what she said about the President’s tweet.
Many of you asked that I personally review the decision of the ECU. I have done so. I have looked carefully at all the arguments that have been made and assessed all of the materials. I have also examined the complaint itself. It was only ever in a limited way that there was found to be a breach of our guidelines. These are often finely balanced and difficult judgements.
But, in this instance, I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made. There was never any sanction against Naga and I hope this step makes that absolutely clear. She is an exceptional journalist and presenter and I am proud that she works for the BBC.
I have asked the editorial and leadership teams to discuss how we manage live exchanges on air around these topics in the future. Our impartiality is fundamental to our journalism and is what our audiences expect of us.
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