The BBC has overturned its decision to uphold a complaint made against presenter Naga Munchetty after she spoke about racism on air.
Munchetty was the subject of a complaint after an on-air debate with co-presenter Dan Walker, shortly after Donald Trump tweeted his “go back home” comments, related to four US congresswomen.
Walker had asked Munchetty about her view, and she replied the comment was “embedded in racism”.
She was found to be in breach of the BBC guidelines.
However following an outcry from the public, BBC director-general Tony Hall has written to all members of staff to clarify that there was no finding against Munchetty, and to effectively overturn it.
Lord Hall said he did not think Munchetty’s words “were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made”.
The message reads: “Racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic. There was never a finding against Naga for what she said about the President’s tweet.
“Many of you asked that I personally review the decision of the ECU [the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit]. I have done so. I have looked carefully at all the arguments that have been made and assessed all of the materials. I have also examined the complaint itself.
“It was only ever in a limited way that there was found to be a breach of our guidelines. These are often finely balanced and difficult judgements.
“But, in this instance, I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.
“There was never any sanction against Naga and I hope this step makes that absolutely clear. She is an exceptional journalist and presenter and I am proud that she works for the BBC.”
He added that the editorial and leadership teams have been asked to look at how the BBC manages live exchanges on air around topics of racism in the future.
When the decision against Munchetty’s comments emerged, it sparked outrage, particularly as Walker had been involved in the conversation, and had asked his fellow presenter for her view on the tweet.
The BBC initially said Walker’s name had not been involved in the complaint, but The Guardian revealed his name was part of the first complaint.
It has now emerged that the initial complaint, which did not go before the ECU, did include Walker – with the viewer describing the presenter as “very unprofessional” and accusing him of “repeatedly expressing incredulity” that Mr Trump’s remarks could be defended.
“Dan Walker, whilst interviewing a guest about President Trump’s recent tweets regarding 4 Democrat politicians in the USA, repeatedly expressed incredulity that anybody could defend Trump’s tweets,” the complaint said. “Very unprofessionally, he then asked his fellow presenter Naga Munchetty for her personal opinions on this news story!
“She foolishly complied with his request and launched into an attack on Trump, including stating that she was personally ‘furious’ about his comments.”
It is understood that the complainant was unhappy with the response to their initial criticism and appealed to the ECU, but then focused only on Munchetty’s comments rather than Walker’s.
In a statement made earlier today, a BBC spokesperson told Sky News: “The appeal to the ECU focused on comments by one presenter, but the statement from the executive team is clear – the BBC is not impartial on racism.
“Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism. Naga has the very clear support of the top of the organisation.”
The BBC ruled that Munchetty crossed the line during a Breakfast show broadcast in July, when she commented on controversial statements made by Mr Trump directed at rival politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.
The corporation has been heavily criticised for the decision, with a petition calling for it to be reversed attracting more than 16,000 signatures.
Sir Lenny Henry, comedian Gina Yashere and actor Adrian Lester were among a host of stars to write to the broadcaster branding its stance as “deeply flawed” and “illegal”.
Elsewhere, the likes of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Chancellor Sajid Javid have also criticised the ruling and aired support for Munchetty.
Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom will also assess what was said.