BBC reverses its decision on Munchetty complaint

Under scrutiny: Naga Munchetty and BBC co-host Dan Walker

BBC director-general Tony Hall has overturned a decision to uphold a complaint against presenter Naga Munchetty over her Donald Trump comments.

In a message sent to all staff, Lord Hall said he had “personally reviewed” the complaint against the BBC Breakfast host but found that “in this instance, I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made”.

Lord Hall added: ”There was never any finding against Naga for what she said about the president’s tweet ... Racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic.“

The BBC also admitted earlier today that a complaint it received about Naga Munchetty concerned her co-host Dan Walker too.

Last week the BBC’s executive complaints unit (ECU) found Ms Munchetty breached impartiality guidelines during a 17 July programme, in which she discussed her personal experience of racism. The broadcaster’s decision triggered public outcry, with many presenters speaking out in support of the breakfast host.

David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards, claimed on Friday that the complaint only concerned Ms Munchetty.

“I don’t think we’ve singled anyone out,” Mr Jordan said, when asked about the controversy on the broadcaster’s Newswatch programme. “I’m afraid the ECU deals with the complaints it gets, so some people say ‘why isn’t Dan Walker being singled out in the same way’. The simple fact is we haven’t had a complaint. They are obliged to deal with the complaints they have, not the complaints they might like to have.”

Yesterday, the broadcaster was forced to admit it had received two complaints about Mr Walker, following a report in The Guardian. Neither was considered by the ECU and Mr Walker therefore escaped censure. The original complaint had a subject line reading: “Blatant political bias from both presenters.” A second complaint again focused on both hosts.

The Independent understands the viewer was unhappy with the response to the initial complaint. They were given an opportunity to appeal to the ECU and then focused on Ms Munchetty alone. Mr Walker’s conduct was left unexamined by the subsequent ECU investigation.

“The appeal to the ECU focused on comments by one presenter, but the statement from the executive team on Friday is clear, the BBC is not impartial on racism,” a spokesperson for the broadcaster said. “Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism. Naga has the very clear support of the top of the organisation.”

During the programme, Mr Walker had asked his co-presenter about her thoughts on racism. The pair were presenting a segment on Donald Trump’s comments about four congresswomen of colour. “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism,” Ms Munchetty said. “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”. Mr Jordan told Newswatch that Dan Walker’s comments were “not helpful”. “It could be said that Dan Walker kind of led Naga Munchetty to the conclusion that she eventually made,” he said.

The BBC partially upheld the complaint against Ms Munchetty on Wednesday. Mr Jordan suggested that the pair’s speculation over the president’s motives had breached impartiality guidelines.

Politicians, celebrities and many of Ms Munchetty’s fellow journalists have publicly declared their support for the presenter. Facing anger within its own ranks over the presenter’s treatment, the BBC has reportedly forbidden its staff from joining in any form of protest supporting Ms Munchetty, according to The Sunday Times.