The BBC attempted to stop an external investigation into Naga Munchetty’s controversial comments about Donald Trump, prompting UK broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, to declare it had “serious concerns around the transparency of the BBC’s complaints process”.
On 17th July, while presenting BBC Breakfast, Munchetty stated the US President’s suggestion Democratic lawmakers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib should “go back” to their ‘home’ countries was “embedded in racism”.
The statements provoked a flurry of complaints, and the BBC subsequently ruled the presenter had indeed breached its guidelines - the British state broadcaster was however criticised for its decision, and on 30th September the BBC buckled to pressure, with its Director-General overturning the decision.
BBC News simply not fit for purpose following Naga Munchetty inquiry. Who gave permission for them to lobby Ofcom. Who will walk the plank? #bbcnews— derek wyatt (@wyattd) October 8, 2019
Ofcom launched its own inquiry following a number of complaints about the decision, and concluded Munchetty’s comments didn’t breach the broadcast code’s guidelines requiring due impartiality, because it was in the context of a chat between two hosts, and viewers would understand the difference between traditional news bulletins and the magazine-style programme, which regularly features “informal exchanges between the presenters on news items”.
Nonetheless, the regulator has issued a ruling slamming the BBC over the opacity of its internal complaint processes, and refusal to provide insight as to how its complaints unit reached the original decision.
“Neither the BBC’s full reasoning or the Director-General’s reasoning for overturning the finding have been published by the BBC. We will be addressing the BBC’s lack of transparency as a matter of urgency,” Ofcom said.
BREAKING: Ofcom rules that BBC Breakfast anchors Naga Munchetty and Dan Walker's exchange in response to racist tweets by Donald Trump "would not breach our broadcasting rules and does not warrant investigation"; Also says BBC transparency will be treated "as a matter of urgency" pic.twitter.com/mav6OEEBnJ— The Speaker (@TweetTheSpeaker) October 7, 2019
The regulator went on to publish its correspondence with BBC editorial standards chief David Jordan, who oversees has ultimate oversight over the complaints process, and argued strongly Ofcom didn’t have the authority to examine the case in detail and refused to cooperate with the external investigation.
He also argued the Munchetty furore didn’t count as exceptional circumstances, and Ofcom had no power to launch an investigation of its own.
“I’m disappointed Ofcom is assessing a broadcast with a view potentially to undertaking an investigation for which it has no clear jurisdiction, rather than handling complaints it has received about the programme in the normal way,” he said.