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Ex-BBC chief wades into Naga Munchetty impartiality row

Mark Thompson said the row over Ms Munchetty’s comments about her own experiences of racism meant the BBC had ‘one of its virtues turned against it’.

Mark Thompson and Naga Munchetty (Nick Ansell/Ian West/PA)
Mark Thompson and Naga Munchetty (Nick Ansell/Ian West/PA)

By Caitlin Doherty, PA

The controversy over BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty means the corporation’s impartiality has been presented as “a fault”, according to a former director-general.

Mark Thompson, who was head of the BBC from 2004-2012, said the row over Ms Munchetty’s comments about her own experiences of racism meant the corporation had had “one of its virtues turned against it”.

Last week, it was ruled that the TV presenter breached editorial guidelines when she condemned comments made by US President Donald Trump telling female Democrats to “go back” to where they came from.

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Complaints were made over Naga Munchetty’s reaction to comments made by US President Donald Trump (Brian Lawless/PA)

The decision was overruled by current Director-General Lord (Tony) Hall on Monday night.

Speaking at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ annual conference in London on Tuesday, Mr Thompson said: “To people in a calm mind, most people would recognise why the BBC should think hard about impartiality, whatever anyone thinks about the Naga Munchetty case.”

He was referring to a comment headline in Tuesday’s Times newspaper which said: “Kneejerk impartiality has driven the BBC mad.”

The BBC's virtues, one of its virtues has been turned against it Mark Thompson

The New York Times Company president added: “In this headline, impartiality has become a fault, it’s become a negative, unthinking, emotional response.

“The BBC’s virtues, one of its virtues has been turned against it.

“That’s a characteristic of a long-running story.”

When asked explicitly whether the BBC had made the right decision by reversing the ruling, Mr Thompson did not offer an opinion.

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BBC Director-General Tony Hall has overruled the decision (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

He said: “I thank my lucky stars for many things; one thing I am thankful for right now is that is not my job anymore.

“To give you an opinion I would need to study the case much more closely than I have.”

In the July 17 broadcast, Ms 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.”

She added: “I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”

The BBC’s original ruling sparked a backlash, with many expressing their outrage at the decision.

Sir Lenny Henry and Krishnan Guru-Murthy were among a group of black and Asian journalists and broadcasters who called for the BBC to reverse its ruling.

Lord Hall said on Monday: “I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.”

Ms Munchetty has not yet commented and will be back on air on BBC Breakfast on Thursday.

PA

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