04 Oct #IStandWithNaga – Addressing the BBC’s diversity problem
Recently BBC Breakfast host, Naga Munchetty, was found to have breached BBC guidelines, by mentioning that she found Donald Trump’s “go home” comments offensive. This was based around Trump’s comments that four female politicians should “go back” to the “places which they came.” The BBC have stated that their editorial guidelines “do not allow for journalists to… give their opinions about individuals making remarks or their motives …”1https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-49883952 . This breach of guidelines led to the BBC reprimanding Munchetty.
Since Munchetty’s comment, there has been international uproar and discourse between people who support Naga (as seen via the hashtag ‘#IStandWithNaga’) and those who support the BBC’s stance.
On the one side, there are people who do not think that she should have highlighted that Trump’s comments were racist, and on the other side those who agree that she was well within her rights to voice her opinion, especially as she was asked for her thoughts by her co-presenter, Dan Walker2https://www.instagram.com/p/B3EgBBIhXrt/.
As a woman of colour, Munchetty spoke out about how she has experienced other people telling her that she should return to the country she came from. On the BBC breakfast show Munchetty simply stated that “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”3https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-49883952 .
Is it wrong for a woman, who is considered an ethnic minority, to voice that she can empathise with the women who Trump offended? She merely mentioned that she has experienced a similar situation and the BBC reprimanded her for it. Situations like these do not encourage people to speak out against racism, but instead have the reverse effect; it silences them.
President Trump is notorious for his racist, discriminative and rude comments which he publicises on his social media accounts. His overt racism encourages the idea that discriminative attitudes, which we are desperately trying to minimise and abolish, are acceptable. The BBC’s decision not to support its employee on this issue gives the impression that they are in support of potentially discriminative views. The BBC’s (supposed) focus on remaining “impartial” (which is laughable in itself), seems to be an attempt to brand itself as a neutral purveyor of truth and subsequently increase its appeal. But what happens when neutrality and impartiality are at odds with the very real lived experiences of the staff that make up the corporation? Who knew that a company’s image would be more important than supporting their staff and trying to improve society?
To ask a woman of colour about racism and expect her to remain impartial is unreasonable. Racism is not a topic to be debated by people who do not understand the meaning of the term. When it comes to racism, ironically, it is not black and white. Asking someone about any encounters of racism that they may have experienced can be a risky course of action, because it requires them to replay a possible trauma4https://www.instagram.com/p/B3EgBBIhXrt/.
What people lack is an accurate understanding of what it means to be racist. The main issue here is that the ‘moral authorities’ on when it is appropriate (or not) to attribute something to racism, are people that have had the privilege of never having experienced it first-hand! Munchetty only briefly mentioned her thoughts on one issue and she was reprimanded because “her comments went beyond what the guidelines allow for,” despite her only mentioning her personal response5https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H151Nt0CseM.
The Media’s Mistakes
The media needs to invest more time in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion on their platforms instead of focusing on upholding their (self-perceived) impeccable image of impartiality. The censorship of issues involving equality needs to cease within the media. Media platforms should be used as a place for the general public to voice the issues that they are facing, instead of broadcasting the people who utilise their large social media platforms as a method of degrading different social groups. Too many issues regarding inequality get very little media attention because leaders do not view them as issues (again, likely due to the lack of lived experience).
The Next Steps
Big media brands such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 Television Corporation, need to be open minded and more invested in ways that they can reduce inequality.
Firstly, these corporations should seek to spotlight, and not silence, the voices of their diverse staff, when broaching topics of inequality. Secondly, media leaders should ensure that all staff are aware and able to identify manifestations of inequality and discrimination and thirdly, leaders need to work to ensure that the workplace is a diverse and inclusive environment for all.
Ofcom recently released their third Diversity in Television Broadcasting Report7https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/information-for-industry/guidance/diversity/diversity-equal-opportunities-television, which including a clarion call from Ofcom CEO, Sharon White, encouraging broadcasters to “redouble their efforts to understand their workforces, examine what is working and strive to attract the most talented people into television – whatever their characteristics or backgrounds” – if this Naga Munchetty debacle isn’t a wakeup call to broadcasters, it’s not clear what it will take to make organisations take these matters seriously.
A diverse and inclusive work environment needs to encourage its employees to engage with different people and learn about other cultures and experiences. Ensuring that the workplace is diverse will also be a better representation of the general public. Employees can share their knowledge and learn from each other; they will be better equipped to speak out against racism or any other forms of discrimination and injustice (and/or Donald Trump comments)!
How The Equal Group can help you improve your equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
Here at the Equal Group, we aim to help businesses and institutions improve their EDI. We give organisations the tools and support they need to fully receive the advantages that come from embracing equality, diversity and inclusion. We offer full scope EDI audits to help identify where organisations can make incremental improvements, and we provide training to help deploy innovative approaches to equality, diversity and inclusion solutions. To book a free consultation click here.