No, let's not put racists on our telly - The Snow In The Summer or So-So

28 September 2019
Say Naga

Earlier in the year, the BBC Breakfast Time programme had a brief discussion about racism. Dan Walker and Naga Munchetty noted how go back home was only ever used in a racist manner, particularly when directed at ethnic minority people. Naga, herself from an ethnic minority, drew from personal experience and described how she felt about the racists who say racist things. This is not controversial.

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.

Co-host Dan Walker asked Naga how she felt when she heard a failed Yankee politician use such language

Furious. Absolutely furious and I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it's OK to skirt the lines by using language like that.

The BBC's editorial board were complained at by some thin-skinned bloviator, intent on stirring up trouble. The board came to the quite remarkable view that Naga was expressing her view on a matter of controversy. They're saying that it's possible to say racist things, and not actually be a racist. On that pinhead, they ruled that Naga had given a personal opinion when saying that someone who used racist words in a racist manner was himself a racist.

This decision is completely indefensible. It assumes that there is a context in which one can use racist words in a racist manner and not actually be a racist, because the defining hallmark of racist is that they use racist words in a racist manner. It ignores the expert testimony of someone who is, too often, told to "go home" in a manner that implies "get out of our shared nation".

The BBC editorial board's ruling opened up a wider conversation, on whether the BBC is doing enough to bring forward genuine diversity. It's one thing to have non-white presenters like Naga challenge racism on screen; it's quite another thing to challenge racism when it's in the BBC's own practices and culture. There is a strong suggestion that the editorial board is made up entirely of white people, and their experiences will be different from those of black and other ethnic minority groups.

And it opened up an even wider conversation, on whether the BBC is doing enough to honour fundamental social values. Other guests booked by the news division have called for riots on the streets, and intimated that the government is above the law. The current affairs division has a habit of airing "street interviews" with people who prefer that the government renege on all its agreements with everyone. Is it possible to be impartial on racism and facism? Does the BBC reflect shared values, or is it throwing them away for soundbites and ratings? The BBC's own editorial guidelines say that "due impartiality does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles, such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and the rule of law" - but this isn't reflected in the shows we see on screen.

Ultimately, we fear that this all exposes the BBC's permanent bias: it's in favour of the establishment in general. Elizabeth Windsor, a queen from Windsor, gets an annual party election broadcast in peak viewing hours, without any challenge from others. There's a daily act of Christian worship, without any challenge from other religions or atheists. And when the establishment is pushing racist policies, the BBC will not want to offend the establishment, so will act in a racist manner itself.

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