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On 17 July, in an exchange on BBC Breakfast, presenter Naga Munchetty was discussing President Trump’s remark that several Democrat congresswomen of colour should “go back” to where they came from. Responding to these remarks, Munchetty stated that ‘every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.” As a result of this comment, the BBC partially upheld a complaint against Munchetty on the grounds that their editorial guidelines ‘do not allow for journalists… to give their opinions about the individuals making the remarks… in this case President Trump’.
This action taken by the BBC is one I deem to be not only incredibly callous toward Munchetty, but on a larger scale one intrinsically cowardly and fundamentally wrong. How can such blatant racism- and make no mistake, in my eyes Trump’s views are clearly those of a racist bigot- ever be considered an ‘opinion’?
Munchetty, when faced with the remarks, chose not to address them directly but rather to contextualise them to her own experiences as a woman of colour. As such, she effectively did the bare minimum to expose Trump’s racism whilst also remaining completely impartial regarding the ugly comments he had made. As a journalist, Munchetty’s job is to inform; in addressing the fact that comments like ‘go back to where you came from’ are often (if not always) embedded in racism, she merely did her job. Were it a white person stating this, it could be considered an opinion as opposed to an informed experience. However, as a person of colour Munchetty was well within her rights to educate the audience. As a result, those watching the discussion she had with co-presenter Dan Walker gained an insight into another person’s experience- not another person’s opinion.
The ruling was met with widespread controversy, with many coming out in Munchetty’s defence. Afua Hirsch, who helped organise a letter to the BBC, stated that ‘the ruling legitimises racist opinion’ and I could not agree more. Munchetty, in having a complaint upheld against her, is being shown in a negative light for standing up to the right-wing nationalism that the cult of Trump promotes. The BBC’s judgement is totally unfair when you further consider the fact that white journalists would be far less likely to encounter racism. They would be less likely to fall foul of the BBC’s ridiculous rules on the most minor of comments being treated as though Munchetty had riled viewers up against Trump and his anti-migrant rhetoric.
Clearly there is a rather blurred line between impartial journalism and an opinion. While I can understand journalists must always remain impartial, the treatment of cases such as Munchetty’s should be met with some leniency due to the divisive and incisive comments made by Trump. Within the context of President Trump’s remarks, it is indisputable to believe that there was anything other than the embedded racism Munchetty so eloquently observed.
Unsurprisingly, the controversy incited by the BBC’s ignorant decision caused its Director General, Lord Hall, to reverse the decision. Hall commented that Munchetty’s words were ‘not sufficient’ to merit the partial upholding of the complaint.
Perhaps, following this backlash, the BBC would benefit from reviewing their own attitudes and policies which currently restrict the extent to which journalists are empowered to confront something so extreme and hateful as racism.