Naga Munchetty perfectly explains why it’s not her job to be a “robot” who “blankly reads the news”

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Appearing on the latest episode of the Women’s Prize For Fiction Podcast, BBC journalist and presenter Naga Munchetty explained why the job of a journalist is not to “blankly read the news.”     

It’s been almost nine months since BBC journalist and presenter Naga Munchetty was accused of breaching impartiality guidelines for her words on Donald Trump’s racist online remarks, but the debate around impartiality and the role of journalism is as relevant as ever.

Back in September 2019, Munchetty faced criticism when she referred to her experience as a woman of colour in response to a tweet by Donald Trump which said that Democrat politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib (commonly known as The Squad) should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”.

“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 said at the time. “Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.

“I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious that a man in that position feels it’s okay to skirt the lines with using language like that.”

After the complaint against her wording was originally upheld, the ruling was overturned by BBC director-general Tony Hall who said in a message sent to BBC staff that he did not believe Munchetty’s words were “sufficient” to merit a partial uphold of the complaint, adding “racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on this topic”.

Appearing on the latest episode of the Women’s Prize for Fiction Podcast, Munchetty addressed the criticism levelled against her at that time, reflecting on how she sees her job as a journalist in the present day, especially in light of George Floyd’s death.

“As far as I’m concerned, I did not offer an opinion, however, I was reflecting on what was said and is obvious,” she told host Zing Tsjeng. “However, I sit on that sofa as a woman, as a person of colour from an ethnic minority, who is not a robot.

“And you know, we’re talking about Black Lives Matter now – we’re talking about George Floyd. And just today I was on the phone to a colleague who is bereft at the moment. She is mixed-race and she is bereft about trying to figure out how we are in a situation again where a man has been killed and the colour of his skin cannot be ignored in terms of the circumstances surrounding his death.”

She continued: “We are not robots. We are not there to simply blankly read the news. That isn’t our job – we are judging the tone of the morning, we are judging the tone of those who are watching, we are judging what they need to know and informing them neutrally but with insight, as much as we can.”

Munchetty then went on to add that, if an interviewee says “the sky is pink” when it’s very clearly “the middle of a blue sky day,” they cannot be left unchallenged.

“I think it’s difficult,” she added. “We are impartial, but we’re not idiots.”

Munchetty’s comments come after the BBC ruled last month that Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis had breached the corporation’s impartiality guidelines for her opening monologue on the Dominic Cummings scandal. 

Despite an influx of praise and support for Maitlis’ address, the BBC said the monologue “did not meet” their impartiality standards. The BBC have since said the case is now closed and no formal investigation will be made.   

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