Aggressive headline: BBC caves in over Munchetty - do newspapers divide or heal - Charles Harris

Earlier this month, the Guardian newspaper published an article about the BBC. The headline read “BBC caves in over censure of TV presenter in Trump racism row.”

The article itself turned out to be a perfectly reasonable and temperate one about how the BBC had reversed its decision to sanction BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty for breaking impartiality guidelines with comments she’d made about Donald Trump. The reversal came after a staff uprising against the ruling and enormous political pressure.

So why the aggressive headline?

For those who haven’t been following the story, Munchetty, one of the BBC’s most prominent minority ethnic journalists, was criticised for giving a personal response on air to the American president’s statement that four US congresswomen of colour should “go home”.

However, those defending her pointed out that there had only been a single complaint; that she has a right to criticise blatant racism; and that her white male co-presenter had escaped censure entirely, despite being involved in the same discussion.

Surely Tony Hall has done the right thing in withdrawing the sanction, after pressure not least from the Guardian. They should congratulate him for it not deride him.

Of course I know the answer to my initial question: an aggressive headline sells papers.

Divisive times

The Guardian has criticised media and politicians for creating a divisive atmosphere for personal gain, and this campaign is admirable and important.

But if we attack people for making U-turns – as so often happens – then where is the incentive to do the right thing? No wonder so many feel that it’s safer to stick to the wrong course and look strong.

I appreciate that it’s not easy. But we live in divided times, where few of us seem able to talk to people who disagree with us, let alone learn from them.

And, as they struggle to keep afloat, too many newspapers are making things worse.

All of us, writers and readers, have a role in this. We must ensure that the more moderate voices aren’t drowned out by the noise.

As it happens, I’m going to be talking about exactly this issue – and how it led to writing my novel The Breaking of Liam Glass in Behind the Headlines in Leicester at Leicester Central Library this Thursday October 24th at 5pm.

It’s free so please join me if you can make it.

We must break the vicious circle and practise what we preach.


Interestingly, I wrote to the Guardian about the headline. They didn’t print my letter. But I notice that they quietly changed the online headline to the much more temperate “Naga Munchetty: BBC reverses decision to censure presenter

So maybe there is hope after all.

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Guardian online: Naga Munchetty: BBC reverses decision to censure presenter

Behind the Headlines

Into the Mirror and Beyond