A person is racist because of what they say or do. If someone says something racist or does something racist then that defines them as a racist.
However, the BBC disagrees with the logic above. The BBC does not accept that a racist comment defines a person as racist.
In July the BBC gave airtime to a supporter of Donald Trump’s racism. In response, the presenter of the show, Naga 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 am] absolutely furious and I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious a man [Trump] in that position thinks it’s OK to skirt the lines by using language like that.”
Naga Munchetty rightly observed that Donald Trump’s racist comments are a problem.
Two months later the BBC’s Complaints Unit upheld a complaint from a supporter of Trump’s racism about Ms. Munchetty’s comments and said
“[the] persistent and personal nature of the [Munchetty’s] criticism risked leaving her open to the charge that she had failed to be even-handed.”
David Jordan, Director, Editorial Policy and Standards at the BBC doubled-down on the Complaints Unit’s position:
“The line is not about calling out racist comments – which is perfectly acceptable when things are clearly framed in racist language – it’s about how you go on to discuss the person who made the comments and make assumptions or remarks about that.
In the politics of the present, when we are in a politics of name-calling and insult, I think it’s probably unwise of the BBC to be calling out people for being liars or racist. What is really important is that we look at the things people say, we analyse them, we describe them objectively. If someone’s told a lie, we call it out for being a lie. If someone’s made a racist remark, we make sure people are aware that they’re inherently racist.
The issue is about when she went on further to discuss President Trump himself, what his motivations were for that, and that breached our impartiality requirements. Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political, or industrial controversy.”
As Jordan Explained, the BBC does not think racist behaviour makes a person racist. The BBC separates the act from the perpetrator. It is an old apologist confidence-trick. It is the passive tense dodge. According to the BBC a racism comment was made in the ether detached from its speaker. The BBC objected to Ms. Munchetty attaching the racist comment to the speaker.
Jordan adopted a familiar far-right stance of complaining about the fact that a racist was called a racist. He posited the racist as the victim of “name-calling.” Far-right voices relentlessly cast themselves as victims of criticism as a ruse to deflect attention from what they said or wrote and Jordan endorsed that approach.
He stated that opinions of presenters on important issues should not be obvious to the viewers or listeners. What he opposed was a presenter’s observations, analysis, deductions and description of facts.
Context of BBC’s response to Naga Munchetty’s comments
BBC Director-General Tony Hall stated in this year’s Annual Plan that
“making sure all sides of a debate are heard – all different views and voices – is fundamental to our mission. It is essential if we are to continue to be the place people know they can trust to get to grips with what is truly happening in the world, and to hear the broadest range of views.”
His commitment to the “broadest range of views” means that all debates and discussions on BBC news programmes are “balanced” with a contrary view regardless of how dishonest, corrupt and wrong that view is. In particular, racists are given platforms in debates on racism. That is Hall’s (mis)understanding of “balance.”
Further, his vision is that presenters should be parrots and verbal stenographers and allow any nonsense to be spoken without response.
Dual entrenched failure at the BBC
The Complaints Unit asked for “even-handedness” from presenters; the BBC wants offensive and stupid people to be given the same respect as everyone else. That demand from the BBC is driven by both a lack of intelligence and by a lack of morality.
The intellectual failure is a basic lack of aptitude to understand issues of balance in news presentation. Tony Hall exudes fear and stupidity and those features are passed down the management structure at the BBC.
The moral failure is the enabling of far-right views via gifts of platforms to charlatans that are not based on knowledge but only the fact that the views are contrary to those of others, and by the support given to far-right complainants who object to their heroes being criticised.
Both the Complaints Unit and Jordan tried to claim that the BBC’s aim is “impartiality.” But, adherence to impartiality is not the same as handing a platform to every opinion and allowing no comment on what is spouted from such platforms.