The BBC on Monday said it has reversed a decision that found one of its Indian-origin presenters, Naga Munchetty, in breach of editorial guidelines for comments critical of United States President Donald Trump. On September 25, the BBC had ruled that Munchetty, host of BBC Breakfast, had breached its guidelines by criticising Trump’s motives in saying that four Democratic Party politicians of colour should “go back to places from which they came”.

BBC Director General Tony Hall, reversing the decision, said on Monday that “racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic”. The news network said the decision was taken after more than 40 prominent people of colour in the United Kingdom, including broadcasters, celebrities and actors, criticised its ruling on Munchetty.

Tony Hall wrote an email to BBC staff on Monday, in which he said: “Many of you asked that I personally review the decision of the ECU [executive complaints unit]. I have done so. I have looked carefully at all the arguments that have been made and assessed all of the materials.”

“I have also examined the complaint itself,” he said. “It was only ever in a limited way that there was found to be a breach of our guidelines. These are often finely balanced and difficult judgements. But, 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.” He added that there was “never any sanction against Naga”.

Calling Munchetty an exceptional journalist, Hall said he has asked editorial and leadership teams “to discuss how we manage live exchanges on air around these topics in the future”.

The crux of the matter

On July 14, Trump had asked four minority liberal Congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”. Three of them – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley – were born in America, while the fourth, Ilhan Omar, had moved to the country in her childhood.

The following day, BBC Breakfast invited a Trump supporter to defend the comments. When her co-host Dan Walker sought her opinion, 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. Now, I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.” She added that she was “absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it’s okay to skirt the lines by using language like that”.

In a letter published in The Guardian, actors Lenny Henry, Adrian Lester and David Harewood, and presenters Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Gillian Joseph, among others, called BBC’s decision “racially discriminatory treatment”.

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