How far is too far when it comes to free speech?


Credit: BBC

Mary Horner

Was Naga Munchetty out of line when she insinuated Donald Trump is a racist on the BBC Breakfast show?

In a recent news report, Naga Munchetty, the BBC One Breakfast presenter for just under 10 years, gave her opinion on one of many Trump tweets to be brought into the news fold. She stated, “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.” Despite the fact that some argue that this statement is imposing her opinion on the definition of racism to the public, it is vital to read into the context surrounding the newscast. Munchetty made it clear that she was stating her opinion, immediately clarifying her line of argument by saying “I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”

The phrase that she was referring to comes from the political minefield that is Donald Trump’s Twitter account. In response to an argument between Nancy Pelosi (US Speaker) and four congresswomen, he wrote “[the congresswomen] came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe…now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” The extreme jingoism here, coupled with a lack of knowledge and respect towards the congresswomen and their ethnic backgrounds, clearly showcases Trump as unprofessional. But was he racist?

He continued his argument by suggesting to the four women that they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” It’s clear that Trump was using his power as president to express his personal views. Trump is clearly singling out these women based on their appearance, separating them from American society. He showcases his deluded view that America is “the greatest and most powerful” country on Earth, therefore attempting to make it superior to all other countries. Seeming as racism is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, I find it effortless to state that Trump’s comments were racist.

I personally believe that Munchetty had every right to voice her thoughts on Trump’s comments. She made an obvious link to Trump’s tweet and the idea that people who are ethnically diverse should “go back to where [you] came from”. It’s a common statement that is used to undermine people in order to gain superiority. The BBC, however, condemned Munchetty’s words at first, using their guidelines to heavily criticize her actions, and even went so far as to isolate her from other BBC members: The Standard reported that “BBC minority staff are being told not to sign the letter or any petition [to condemn the dissatisfaction Munchetty received] and to stay clear of this one.” The BBC stated that she went against their guidelines, some of which states that their news should be “preventing people being misled by the statements or actions of individuals or organisations.” Whilst Munchetty did make it clear that Trump’s comment resembled racist remarks she had received in the past, the BBC stated that “[we] have a right to freedom of expression … This freedom is at the heart of the BBC’s independence”. Was Munchetty forcing the audience to agree with her? No. Was she intimidating or threatening whilst speaking? Absolutely not.

Although news outlets such as the BBC endeavour to remain unbiased on contentious issues, it’s near impossible to keep everything neutral. Opinions, if conveyed in a responsible and calm manner, offer us as members of the public the opportunity to accept or reject these views. Along with concrete facts and evidence, statements that are explicitly stated as such do not compromise the integrity of a news company, but rather widen the interpretations of a topic to the public. Without comments like the ones that Naga Munchetty made, the topic of Trump’s offensive criticisms and the topic of free speech may not have been questioned as fervently as they have been.