Naga Munchetty’s comments were calling out blatant racism

People of colour have frequently been side-lined as the faces of mainstream media for many years and their stories have often fallen victim to misrepresentation and underrepresentation. And I can’t say I’m too surprised with the BBC’s treatment of their own presenter and journalist, Naga Munchetty, over her comments about Donald Trump’s remarks about how four congresswomen should “go back” to the “places from which they came.”

This is not the first time Donald Trump has enraged people via his views, such as not referring to the El Paso shooting as a terrorist attack.

When co-presenter Dan Walker pressed Munchetty on how Trump’s remarks made her feel, she responded that they made her “furious.” She continued, “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism. Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”

For her response, the BBC rebuked Munchetty for breaching editorial guidelines which rule that staff cannot show bias in news reporting, claiming, “overall her comments went beyond what the guidelines allow for.”

Since when did journalism become so stoic and unfeeling that the straight-forward indication of discriminatory language was classed as breaching editorial guidelines?

Pointing out racism is like pointing out whether it’s raining or not – it’s fact, not opinion.

Journalistic positions for ethnic minorities come with a double-edged sword; while there is an expectation from their respective cultural communities to provide a voice for stories which are in danger of becoming whitewashed by media outlets, BAME journalists are also under the pressure to adhere to the expectation of every journalist where they must refrain from emotional reporting.

But if media outlets hire people of colour to encourage diversity, should they not expect some comment on sensitive situations such as this to make real change, rather than give the illusion that they are promoting diversity? Nesrine Malik calls this “Javid’s law, where a non-white person is brought into the fold, then wheeled out to show how their very presence “proves” their employer is free from discrimination.”

The backlash against the BBC for rebuking Munchetty has been strong. In an open letter to the BBC by a host of BAME stars, including Sir Lenny Henry, comedian Gina Yashere and actor Adrian Lester, they state, “To require journalists of all ethnicities and races to endorse racism as a legitimate ‘opinion’ is an abrogation of responsibility of the most serious nature.”

It continues, “in addition to being deeply flawed, illegal and contrary to the spirit and purpose of public broadcasting, the BBC’s current position will have a profound effect on future diversity within the BBC”.

As a British Indian woman myself, I can say that Munchetty’s commentary on Trump’s remarks isn’t just rooted in her own personal experience; it’s an address of a universal cultural experience which only seems to be legitimised by the BBC’s lack of support for her statement of facts. We saw this with Shilpa Shetty’s experience on Big Brother – Channel 4 airing it legitimised her attacker’s stance.

And while I respect that journalistic integrity entails being able to distance personal feelings from news, I maintain that we all have a social responsibility to call out discrimination, especially when it is so blatantly and publicly obvious.

Image: BBC

Kiran Athwal

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