BBC bosses have claimed they are ‘not impartial on racism’ after the decision to rebuke Naga Munchetty for criticising Donald Trump provoked a fierce backlash.
Director-general Lord Tony Hall and other executives sent a letter to corporation staff stating that “racism is racism” and that “diversity matters hugely”.
Staff at the broadcaster have been told the impartiality of the BBC does not extend to racism, which is not a matter of opinion or debate.
The corporation drew criticism for upholding a complaint against Ms Munchetty, who said in a July 17 BBC Breakfast broadcast that President Trump’s call for a group of female Democrats to ‘go back to their own countries’ was “embedded in racism”.
Three of the women were born in America, and his comments were widely condemned as racist.
Sir Lenny Henry and Krishnan Guru-Murthy were among a group of black and Asian journalists and broadcasters who called for the BBC to reverse its ruling over Ms Munchetty’s criticism of the US president.
It said that requiring journalists to “endorse racism as a legitimate ‘opinion”‘ was an “abrogation of responsibility”.
After fierce criticism, including from Carrie Gracie and other BBC staff, the Executive Committee of the broadcaster sent a message to employees defending its position.
The message states: “You will have heard a lot of comment over the past few days about the BBC and the reporting of racism.
“The BBC is not impartial on racism. Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism.
“Naga Munchetty – one of our stars – was completely within her rights to speak about the tweets of Donald Trump which have been widely condemned as racist.
“We completely back her in saying ‘as a woman of colour, to go back where I came from, that was embedded in racism’.
“She was speaking honestly and from the heart about her own experiences. We admire her for it and she was completely justified in doing so.
“The very limited finding was not about Naga’s comments on racism. That part of the complaint was rejected.
“Diversity matters hugely. The success of the BBC is built on the quality and diversity of our people. That is not negotiable.”
The message has been sent to all BBC staff on behalf of the Executive Committee, which includes Lord Hall.
It followed a decision by the BBC to uphold a complaint, in part, for an on-air conversation following the comments by Trump directed at politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
It was ruled that Ms Munchetty crossed the line when she commented on statements made by Mr Trump.
She told her co-presenter Dan Walker: “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism,” adding: “I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”
Questioned further by Mr Walker, she said she was “absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it’s OK to skirt the lines by using language like that”.
The BBC initially commented saying: “Overall her comments went beyond what the guidelines allow for.”