The BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) last week ruled that BBC presenter, Naga Munchetty, breached editorial guidelines on impartiality for commenting on the racist remarks made by President Trump in a tweet. The public broadcaster’s Director General has now overturned this decision.

On September 25, it was ruled by the ECU, the public broadcaster’s highest in-house arbiter of complaints, that Manchetty had breached editorial guidelines following a complaint by a viewer regarding hers and co-host Dan Walker’s speculations into the motivations for the U.S. President’s tweet, which was broadcast on July 17 this year. The complaint was partially upheld by the BBC.

A BBC spokesperson stated that: “While Ms Munchetty was entitled to give a personal response to the phrase ‘go back to your own country’, as it was rooted in her own experience, overall her comments went beyond what the guidelines allow for.”

The broadcaster added that its editorial guidelines “do not allow for journalists to give their opinions about the individual making the remarks or their motives for doing so – in this case, President Trump.”


An initial email was sent out to all members of staff from the BBC Executive Committee which includes Tony Hall and Fran Unsworth, Director of News and Current Affairs, which outlined: “Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism.”

“Naga Munchetty – one of our stars – was completely within her rights to speak about the tweets of Donald Trump which have been widely condemned as racist.”

“The very limited finding was not about Naga’s comments on racism. That part of the complaint was rejected.”

“Diversity matters hugely. The success of the BBC is built on the quality and diversity of our people. That is not negotiable.”

Discussing the complaint on BBC Newswatch, David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, explained, “There is no doubt that the comment was racist but what she then went on to speculate about together with Dan Walker later in the conversation was what was motivating that.”

He also explained that Munchetty’s co-host, Dan Walker, has not been included in the ECU’s assessment, because he was not mentioned in the complaint itself and under rules regarding complaints, the ECU are unable to investigate his part in the exchange.

He described the process of the assessment as being “objective” in order to agree on an independent judgement, which does not require to call in independent experts “because if we’re not experts on our own editorial guidelines then what are we?”

Watch the full interview here

However, a second email from Hall was sent on Monday night explaining his newly revised decision to overturn the ruling against Manchetty due to ‘internal and external protests.’ It stated: “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 judgments.

“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.


The UK’s media regulator, Ofcom, had also announced that it would assess the programme following a complaint made by Labour MP Chi Onwurah concerning the public broadcaster’s ruling. An Ofcom spokesperson was quoted in the Financial Times as saying: “We have recently received complaints relating to this programme and we are assessing the content against our own broadcasting rules.”

According to The Independent, a formal investigation by the broadcasting watchdog was to be launched if issues were raised under the Ofcom code.


There has also been a significant amount of support for the BBC presenter on Twitter, with the Twitter handle ‘#IStandWithNaga’ being used by politicians and other broadcasters alike. 

Over 40 actors and broadcasters to date had also signed an open letter condemning the BBC for upholding the complaint against Naga, which criticises the ruling for allegedly legitimising racism, and urged the BBC to reconsider the ruling. Alongside this, another open letter signed by over 100 MPs was sent directly on Hall.

Moving forward with the management of the public broadcaster’s editorial guidelines, Hall signed off his most recent email by asking the editorial and leadership teams to “discuss how we manage live exchanges on air around these topics in the future. Our impartiality is fundamental to our journalism and is what our audiences expect of us.”

Header Image: BBC Headquarters, London. Credit: IR_Stone/iStock