Should the BBC still be focused on impartiality?

By Lottie Ennis

The BBC provides an impartial and independent news which holds itself to an incredibly high standard. The broadcasting service is traditionally known for its values of a crystal clear and purely information-based articles and is the oldest broadcasting news service in the world. Considering the fractious world we live in, a truly impartial news outlet is a valuable resource, as, with the rise in social media, fake news and forever over-exaggerated facts and figures it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

The issue of impartiality was raised recently when reporter Naga Munchetty faced disciplinary action as a result of implying indirectly that Donald Trump’s comments about 4 congresswomen was racist. At the request of her host Dan Walker, Munchetty was asked to describe how she felt when she, as a woman of colour, was told to go back to her own country, when she heard of Trump saying very similar things to several congresswomen. Munchetty relayed her own experiences and admitted she was furious at hearing Trump’s words. Due to these responses, the complaints department at the BBC was notified and Munchetty faced possible punishment. The head of the BBC then overturned this, saying that the BBC wasn’t impartial on racism.

Some of the arguments the Munchetty case raised was; is it ever okay for the BBC to be impartial on something that is clearly racist and offensive? Or should the BBC remain firm on its policy that reporter’s opinions are their own and should not feature on social media, television or news articles? Clearly some of the reactions to Munchetty being called up over her comments show that it affects everyone if the BBC continue to be impartial on racism. Over 100 different BAME celebrities co-wrote and signed a letter explaining the dangers of ignoring racism and allowing it to infiltrate our society. It explained that to remove Munchetty over saying how she felt after receiving racist comments would be unethical and giving way to a racist rhetoric. However, other reporters suggested that the Munchetty case is not really about impartiality and the BBC should not be impartial to some things above others at the risk of losing sight of their original values.

The BBC’s guidelines state that impartiality is at the core of everything they do, and it is their duty to provide a broad range of perspectives no matter how controversial the topic may be. This attitude is valuable but can undermine some of the work society has already done to create a more inclusive environment. For example, there was controversy when the BBC gave equal airtime to those with extreme views in debates about Brexit. It is possible that without the BBC following its guidelines so closely that these individuals may not have had any airtime and so perhaps may not have reached an audience. Considering the consequences of following their impartiality guidelines so ardently should be a factor in what the BBC broadcasts, as well as impartiality at the time of the broadcast. Especially as some of the information featured in the debates was possibly not true, it is dangerous to give extreme individuals airtime when they are going to abuse that time to broadcast their own prejudiced views.

In my opinion, I feel that the BBC needs to have more confidence in its own ability to remain impartial. From the head of the BBC’s comments about the Munchetty case we can see he did not believe her comments threatened the BBC in anyway and so could not have been impartial in a way which would have damaged their reputation. From this, I think it is safe to say that the BBC should continue in its difficult quest to remain truly impartial and to let their reporters uphold these values without fear of complaints.