BBC defends censure of Naga Munchetty over Trump comments

BBC Breakfast Show presenter made comments after Trump told four congresswomen to ‘go home’

The BBC has defended the decision to censure Breakfast Show host Naga Munchetty for her comments about Donald Trump, with the corporation’s director of editorial policy saying it is not the BBC’s policy to be “calling out people for being liars or racist”.

The BBC Breakfast Show presenter was found to have breached guidelines after saying she felt “absolutely furious” about the US president’s language, after he told four Democratic congresswomen to “go home” despite them all being US citizens.

“I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious that a man in that position feels it’s OK to skirt the lines with using language like that,” Munchetty said at the time.

David Jordan said that under the corporation’s editorial guidelines Munchetty was allowed to accurately describe Trump’s comments as racist, she was allowed to objectively analyse the impact that such racist comments have on herself and other people of colour, but she was not allowed to express a personal opinion on the motives and character of the person making those racist comments.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the ruling had been misinterpreted by the public: “The line is not about calling out racist comments – which is perfectly acceptable when things are clearly framed in racist language – it’s about how you go on to discuss the person who made the comments and make assumptions or remarks about that.

“In the politics of the present, when we are in a politics of name-calling and insult, I think it’s probably unwise of the BBC to be calling out people for being liars or racist. What is really important is that we look at the things people say, we analyse them, we describe them objectively. If someone’s told a lie, we call it out for being a lie. If someone’s made a racist remark, we make sure people are aware that they’re inherently racist.

“The issue is about when she went on further to discuss President Trump himself, what his motivations were for that, and that breached our impartiality requirements. Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political, or industrial controversy.”

Munchetty made the original comments while presenting BBC Breakfast in July with co-host Dan Walker, who had questioned her on how she felt about Trump’s intervention. Although Munchetty said she felt “absolutely furious”, she did not directly call Trump a racist, instead saying the president’s language was “skirting the line”.

Although the BBC received many complaints from members of the public over the incident, only one individual chose to dispute the initial response and elevate the case to the executive complaints unit – the top-level internal arbiter of BBC standards.

Jordan, defending the BBC’s position, accepted “she was led down the path by her co-presenter” but Walker was not investigated because the member of the public complained only about Munchetty.

This has led to anger among fellow BBC journalists and reporters as to how a single member of the public with the time and inclination to pursue a complaint to higher levels has led to a public and internal crisis about how the corporation handles issues of race.

The BBC declined to comment on the make-up of the editorial complaints unit, although the Guardian understands it consists of seven individuals with only two women and no one from an ethnic minority background. Several members are former BBC current affairs programme editors approaching retirement.

BBC staff have been reminded not to tweet their support for Munchetty or they could themselves face sanctions – although some journalists said these warnings had been delivered by managers who privately admitted they believed the editorial complaint unit’s decision was wrong.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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