3 October 2019
By: Anna Lekas Miller
Most of the world can agree that Donald Trump’s now infamous “go home” tweet directed at four Congresswomen of color (three of whom were born in the United States) was more than just a little bit racist. However, when BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty said that the tweet made her “furious” and shared a personal anecdote about being a woman of color, she was accused of breaching impartiality—an accusation that could have cost her her position.
After a few days, the complaint was overturned—and Munchetty is even resuming her post today. However, the incident reveals many deep-set problems in the British media—particularly their approach to “diversity.”
First, the abysmal diversity record: British media is 94 percent white—and almost always recruited from elite schools. While the BBC is considered to be one of the better of a group of media outlets that collectively resemble a diversity nightmare, many of the ways it approaches diversity remain problematic.
The broadcasting company is careful to ensure that its diversity targets mirror Britain’s racial and gender demographics. But is this enough? The highly praised 50:50 initiative that promises equal representation of men and women on talk shows excludes trans* women from being classified as women, and leaves no room for gender non-binary individuals. Race and sexuality are mentioned (generously at 15 and 8 percent) but there is no acknowledgement of different racial and sexual identities.
So even if the BBC fills their quotas on paper, does it mean that everyone is equally represented? B.A.M.E—that is, Black, Asian, and “Minority Ethnic”—is more or less a catchall term for anyone who is not white, and is the common moniker for these kinds of diversity targets. So if 15 percent of the BBC is “BAME,” that doesn’t mean that the wealth of diversity within “non-whiteness” is represented; it is tokenistic at best, and vastly generalizing at worst.
But even more important than any of these quotas, is who are these diversity initiatives even for? As we have pointed out time, and time again at Media Diversity Institute, a more diverse team of journalists produces better journalism. If a journalist identifies as a conservative Muslim or gender-queer, they have the tools to approach a story with sensitivities that someone else might miss. Journalists from a range of different backgrounds bring a range of different contacts and stories—making truthful, and more authentic journalism.
The BBC might have employed Naga Muchanetty—who is half Indian and half Mauritian—but when she reacted to a tweet that many other prominent people of color have condemned as racist, she was criticized for failing to be impartial. In other words, the minute she contributed a piece of her lived experience to the program, she was told to shut up.
As a BBC employee who chose to remain anonymous told gal-dem, “…it’s like they want to see brown faces, but not brown people.”
But we desperately need other perspectives. We live in a time of rising hate speech and violent white supremacy around the world—much of which is coming from the mouths of the very people who lead our countries. Meanwhile, we are guiding our journalism with impartiality standards that were crafted for a different—and in many ways, much tamer time. We need to know exactly how this kind of violent language affects people, and have an open and honest debate about what we can do to fight it. Without sharing our lived experiences as people, and journalists of color, how are we supposed to have the tools to do that?
What is the point of having television talkshows shows, or newspaper op-eds if we can’t bring our experiences of the world to the debate? What is the point of the debate if the debate is made for one kind of person, and one kind of person only?