Sky News Board Member Reviews BBC Procedures After Fiasco Over Presenter’s Donald Trump Comments

Naga Munchetty and Dan Walker
Naga Munchetty and Dan Walker on BBC Breakfast. BBC

EXCLUSIVE: A Sky News board member is set to recommend a series of changes to the BBC’s editorial complaints procedures following a huge row over on-air remarks presenter Naga Munchetty made about Donald Trump last year.

Deadline can reveal that Chris Banatvala, a consultant who worked at UK media regulator Ofcom for seven years, carried out a review of the complaints process late last year at the request of director general Tony Hall and the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and Standards Committee. The BBC is due to publish Banatvala’s findings shortly, potentially as early as this week.

It follows an explosive debate last September, when the BBC censured presenter Munchetty after she called out Trump’s “racism” for tweeting that congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib should “go back to the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Asked on BBC Breakfast how she felt about the U.S. president’s tweet, Munchetty 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 (ECU) ruled that Munchetty’s comments “fell short of due impartiality” expected of presenters, but after the decision sparked anger — particularly among industry executives from diverse backgrounds — it was overturned by Hall. “Racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic,” the director general said in an email to staff.

Banatvala, who has sat on the Sky News board for more than a year and also assesses complaints on behalf of Channel 4, carried out his review after commenting on the Munchetty issue on BBC Radio 4’s Media Show in October last year. He said at the time that the BBC got itself into a “messy” situation because it was not clear about the reasons why Munchetty was censured, or why Hall overruled the ECU.

“We’re not very clear about what has actually occurred and I think that goes back to the original [ECU] decision that was published, which basically didn’t have enough reasoning in it. That meant from there onwards, the BBC was constantly on the back foot,” Banatvala said. He also recommended that the ECU take a broader look at the entire history of an audience complaint before making a ruling.

A BBC spokesman said: “We are always looking at how we might improve the transparency and effectiveness of our complaints process and in October we asked Chris Banatvala — a leading expert on regulation with vast experience — to undertake a piece of work to understand what improvements we could make. His work has informed proposed amendments to our complaints framework which we will be consulting on shortly.”

The BBC is confident that Banatvala’s work at Sky News does not represent a conflict of interest because he is not making recommendations that relate directly to content and editorial decision making.

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