This month’s current affairs feature concerns race discrimination but is Brexit free (hooray) however it is a tangential effect of some of Donald Trump’s spouting (groans). If you cast your minds back to late September and early October, you may remember there was quite the furore about the BBC’s treatment of BBC Breakfast journalist, Naga Munchetty.
Following Donald Trump’s comment and tweet that four American congresswomen of colour and foreign heritage should go home, Naga Munchetty, having been asked to comment on the issue by co-presenter Dan Walker, stated that such comments felt like racism to her. She was speaking as a woman of colour who had been the recipient of similar comments.
Prior to this, Dan Walker had also made comments that he didn’t understand how people could defend Trump after such a comment. The BBC received one complaint from the average 1.5m viewers over the coverage. The BBC decided to censure Munchetty for her comments which they held broke impartiality guidelines.
At the time of making the decision the BBC came under fire for not censuring Walker too. Bosses stated the reason for the differential treatment was because they had not received a complaint about Walker, only Munchetty. However, it later transpired the original complaint concerned both Walker and Munchetty. Following backlash from people both inside and outside the BBC, all action against Munchetty was dropped.
Purportedly the reason that only Munchetty was investigated was because the abridged complaint that was passed on to senior complaints managers had removed references to Walker. Regardless the original complaint shows that both were the subject of the complaint.
To only discipline the Asian female presenter and not the white male presenter is a potential act of direct discrimination and another blow for an organisation trying to shift the perception that white men are paid and treated differently to women and people from BAME backgrounds. Following a potential act of direct race discrimination, the BBC has stated it will reform the complaints procedure. It might also be worth reforming who handles complaints to ensure all people are treated equally!
Perhaps more worryingly, the decision reversal only followed pressure from both inside and outside the organisation, not from senior managers admitting their error and acting fairly. Interestingly, as a result of the scandal, neither presenter was disciplined for breaching impartiality rules despite receiving an official complaint about both. We would normally say a penny for Trump’s thoughts but he gives them away on Twitter for free!