Up to 150 black presenters and high-profile figures signed a letter urging the corporation to overturn its decision to back a complaint against the BBC Breakfast TV host. The BBC’s editorial complaints unit said Ms Munchetty, 44, broke rules while discussing remarks by US president Donald Trump that she said were “embedded in racism”. The group, including actors Sir Lenny Henry and David Harewood, Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Sky journalist Gillian Joseph, called the ruling deeply flawed, illegal and against the spirit of public broadcasting.
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The row erupted after the BBC unit issued a formal rebuke, saying Ms Munchetty had shown “bias” by condemning comments made by Mr Trump during a broadcast in July.
At the time, Mr Trump was engaged in a heated dispute with top women Democrats who, he said, should “go back” to their own countries.
Ms Munchetty said: “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.
“I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”
Co-host Dan Walker asked how it made her feel and Ms Munchetty replied: “Furious. Absolutely furious. And I imagine a lot 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.”
Asked if she believed Mr Trump’s use of that language “legitimises other people to use this”, she said: “Yes. Yes.” When Mr Walker suggested it “feels like a thought-out strategy to strengthen his position”, Ms Munchetty added: “And it is not enough to do it just to get attention. He’s in a responsible position.
“Anyway, I’m not here to give my opinion.”
Writer Afua Hirsch called the ruling abhorrent and said: “Racism is not an opinion – it is a fundamental ideology that removes the humanity of people because of their race.
“It’s ludicrous to say it’s fine for a presenter to express her own experience of racism, but she shouldn’t cast judgment on the person being racist. It’s an absurd thing to say.” Yesterday Chancellor Sajid Javid backed Ms Munchetty, tweeting: “C’mon BBC. This is ridiculous. It’s perfectly understandable why she said what she did.” London mayor Sadiq Khan added: “Educating viewers on racist language is something she should be applauded for, not censured.”
But veteran broadcaster Alastair Stewart said: “It becomes increasingly difficult for the public to get their heads round what is happening in our politics if supposedly independent TV reporters keep giving us their views rather than the facts.”
And BBC presenter Andrew Marr said: “Analysis fine, hard questions essential, but our views? Not wanted on voyage.” The BBC’s editorial standards boss, David Jordan, said Ms Munchetty did not cause a problem by responding to “that clearly racist comment”, or speaking about how it felt as a black woman.
But he said she was wrong to go on to discuss Mr Trump himself and his motivations, adding: “That breached our impartiality requirements.”
In a letter to staff, BBC director general Lord Hall said “racism is racism” and Ms Munchetty was “completely within her rights” to speak about Mr Trump’s tweets “which have been widely condemned as racist”.
Ms Munchetty was unavailable for comment last night.