Dear BBC, On reflection, the eventual apology made by the outgoing BBC Director-General Tony Hall on 9th August 2020, is just the beginning and not the end of this N-word controversy.
Sadly, it does not go far enough. It only addresses the use of the word, not the subsequent defence of its use. This is unacceptable when you consider the damage that it has caused.
Therefore, we are calling for the dismissal of the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy & Standards, David Jordan, as well as the Director of News Fran Unsworth, who both ‘sanctioned’ the use of this degrading and offensive word.
Indeed, even after she was aware that there had been more than 18,000 complaints about the use of the N-word in a TV news report, Ms Unsworth attempted to justify its use and failed to apologise.
This had the effect of exacerbating the trauma for thousands of BBC viewers and violating the dignity of black BBC employees by creating an offensive, degrading and humiliating environment.
The BBC’s reasons for why it was valid to use the N-word include:
- It was meant to shock: Not only did it do just that but it also caused trauma among audiences.
- The family wanted the word in full included in the report: BBC editorial judgement is never trumped by the demands of contributors. Why was this situation different?
- It was editorially justified: This appears to mean whatever the editorial classes decide it to mean.
The editorial justification does not outweigh the offence. Simply by stating that the perpetrators ‘called the victim the N-word’ would have equally conveyed that the incident was racially-motivated, and helped to change the police classification.
Other broadcasters did not refer to the N-word let alone use it in full. Did the BBC conduct an impact assessment to assess the effect of this decision on its workforce, in particular its black workers? The duty of care extends to them also.
Less than a year ago, the BBC was brought into disrepute when a complaint against BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty was partially upheld by David Jordan, after the BBC found she had criticised President Donald Trump’s motives in saying four female Democrats should “go back” to “places from which they came”.
Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, was forced to make a U-turn, and promises of reform were made. However, the latest incident suggests that nothing has changed and lessons have not been learned.
Another opportunity to reform the BBC was missed following the killing of George Floyd in the US. This had a profound impact on many people. It is widely known that during this time BBC staff spoke of their concerns about racism within the corporation.
Once more, promises were made, but it appears that the small circle of white groupthink decision-makers remains. There is an urgent need for reform.
It took over 18,000 complaints from the public, complaints from staff and the resignation of BBC 1Xtra’s broadcaster Sideman aka David Whitely before an apology was made 11 days later on Sunday 9th August by the Director General Tony Hall.
1. We want that the BBC to take responsibility for what happened and demand the removal of David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy & Standards and Fran Unsworth, Director of News for repeatedly bringing the BBC into disrepute and causing trauma, alarm, distress and humiliation to the public, and violating the dignity of black staff by creating an offensive, degrading and humiliating working environment.
The current Director-General will be replaced by Tim Davie on 1st September 2020, so we hope he takes this opportunity to create a new forward-thinking diverse team.
2. We want the BBC to agree to have an independent organisation with a proven track record on race matters to be consulted on all issues regarding race at the BBC.
3. We are calling for BBC 1Xtra’s broadcaster Sideman aka David Whitely to be compensated if he feels unable to return to his job. DJ Sideman spoke for many when he described the BBC’s decision to use the N-word, and then to defend its use, as a “slap in the face”.
BBC Blackout Day
4. To highlight these issues, we are calling on the public here and abroad to join us on Wednesday 19 August for BBC Black Out Wednesday, starting at 0900 BST for 24 hours. We are asking all allies to join the boycott. We are asking everyone in the UK and around the world to not access any BBC content i.e. TV, radio, online and social media platforms.
5. The BBC’s gratuitous use of the N-word could constitute a race hate crime. This warrants an investigation. We know that over the last two weeks this event has resulted in people suffering from trauma, due to the prolonged legitimising by the BBC of the use of this extremely wounding and offensive word.
To Report a Hate Crime:
1. Report the specific incidents to your local police station by ringing 101 or on textphone 18001 101 if you are hard of hearing. Visit your local police station, write to your local commissioner of police or use the complaint portal. For example, in London, the web page would be https://www.met.police.uk/ro/report/ocr/af/how-to-report-a-crime/
3. Report it to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission on https://equalityhumanrights.com/en
Trauma is the feeling of deep distress and can have a lasting impact on a person’s mental health and emotional stability. Imagine trauma happening on a regular basis as is the lived experience of many black people, with no respite or escape. This is what concerns us.
The trigger of trauma brought on by not only the full use of the N-word on BBC News, but also a couple of days later on the BBC Two documentary American History’s Biggest Fibs, has had many black people feeling the need to defend their views, resulting in being attacked by trolls on social media, and also feeling embarrassed and offended.
This, in turn, has led to many feelings of despair, frustration, stress and anxiety, especially so soon after the killing of George Floyd and the outpouring of feelings that followed.
Get help! We understand BBC staff have access to their own counselling services. For the general public, can we suggest that you seek support from your GP or via the NHS website:
This is an open letter from InfluencHers: a collective of 100 Black British women from the worlds of business, criminal justice, education, health, law, media, publishing, and their supporters.