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Double standards at the BBC?

02 Oct 2019  |  Stephen Arnell 
Double standards at the BBC?

Depending on age, sex and race, it is strange how the BBC's Executive Complaints Unit seems to apply its rules differently between its news presenters, writes Stephen Arnell

The pleasure in writing an opinion piece is that readers recognise that it’s precisely what it is – an opinion, albeit what I believe is a reasonably informed one.

And in the realm of news presenter and reporters, the quite correct rule is to be, if not totally neutral (difficult in the case of some stomach-churning crimes), at least professionally analytical.

That being said, there is an area where traditionally neutral news presenters should be allowed to give their views – especially when directly asked and if it applies personally to them, for example the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.

This I believe is the case with the BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty when asked by her co-host Dan Walker to comment, specifically as a woman of colour, on Donald Trump’s hide-in-plain-sight racist call for four Democratic Congresswomen to ‘go back’ to ‘the places from which they came’.

Munchetty called Trump’s race-baiting for what it was but ended by being carpeted by the BBC’s Orwellian ECU (Executive Complaints Unit), although this ruling has since been thrown out by Director General Tony Hall.

Even famed Trump toady Piers Morgan sided with Munchetty, which shows how wrong-headed the BBC reprimand was.

Perhaps Hall had factored in the blowback over his sacking of veteran DJ Tony Blackburn in February 2016, only for the broadcaster to return to the BBC later in the year.

Or maybe he was mindful that DGs have not fared well when cast into the spotlight - witness the fate of the out-of-his-depth George Entwistle and the infamous colleague-biting incident that has continued to dog the footsteps of his predecessor Mark Thompson, since 2012 lucratively installed as the CEO of the New York Times.

It appeared particularly ill-advised for the Corporation to break Munchetty on the wheel for stating the obvious, when the otherwise estimable presenter Andrew Neil was able to describe the investigative reporter Carole Cadwalladr as ‘a mad cat woman’.

Neil deleted the tweet but wasn’t hauled up before the ECU and has continued to wend his merry way.

But as a white, older man he appears to belong to the club that the BBC appears to indulge greater freedom to opine – witness former R4 Today presenter John Humphrys, now in full bite-the-hand-that-feeds mode since his recent departure from the Corporation.

Lucky Humphrys, some would say, with decades-long employment, lucrative speaking gigs and a very comfortable salary and pension.

And now in his retirement Humphrys now has the chance to stick the boot into the Lefties he believes dominate Auntie and made his life such a living hell over the 40 odd years he spent there.

Nice work if you can get it, as the phrase goes.

And no wonder people feel that Munchetty was unfairly treated.

In the case of guests such as Farage, PM Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogg, the BBC sometimes seems to give them free rein to bloviate endlessly without being fact-checked or corrected.

Farage in particular, gives the impression that he spends half his life in front of a BBC camera crew. And the other half in front of Sky and Channel 4’s.

On the odd occasion when they’re challenged, such as this July’s Newsnight Emily Maitlis/Rod Liddle set-to, these feisty Tribunes of the People/Bad Boys of Brexit get all whiny and complain of being bullied.

Boohoo.

To be fair, accusations of going easy on mainstream political interviewees can also hold true for Corbyn and crew, although I tend to think that they are generally given a harder time.

But of course, I could be wrong, it’s just my opinion.

Maybe now it’s time for the ECU and others at the BBC to think about putting Naga Munchetty’s comments in perspective, and perhaps applying the rules with equal rigour when looking at some of her more antediluvian colleagues in news presentation/reportage at the Corporation.


Stephen Arnell is a broadcast consultant

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