Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter from the National Association of Black Journalists, signed by its president, Gregory H. Lee Jr., to the BBC on recent coverage by the network which the NABJ has deemed racially insensitive.
The National Association of Black Journalists, the oldest and largest organization of black journalists, is disappointed to learn that the BBC, an organization long known for accuracy and impartiality, is failing to adhere to its own values.
In the height of recent riots in Britain, the BBC simplistically asked on the global phone-in program World Have Your Say, “Is there a problem with young black men?”
In asking such a question, the BBC offended many in its global audience. The question infers that young black men were the only ones rioting and looting, which we find to be inflammatory. If that's the case, we call on the BBC to provide the proof. We are struggling to understand this stunning lack of sensitivity because the BBC has a longstanding reputation of integrity, accuracy and impartiality with very clear editorial guidelines.
In another incident, the BBC allowed historian David Starkey, a guest on the Newsnight television program, to say that “whites have become blacks” in reference to the race of rioters. Even more disturbing, the Newsnight presenter did not challenge that bizarre assertion — on a program that regularly holds people accountable for their views. By allowing the comment to go unchallenged, was the BBC agreeing with the inference that becoming black is monolithically synonymous with being violent?
All of this in a week when a BBC presenter inaccurately said that veteran civil rights campaigner and broadcaster Darcus Howe had been involved in previous riots when in fact he was not and had to correct the presenter on-air.
Is this just a case of shocking incompetence or racism — as others have said? Why have black people in Britain not been afforded the same respect given to others? Why is the assumption that if something is negative pertaining to black people it is deemed acceptable by the BBC? What happened to the BBC's duty to provide accurate and balance reporting? This raises the question of whether the BBC's senior editorial ranks need better racial and philosophical diversity to avoid being blind to such insensitive incidents.
NABJ represents black journalists worldwide. We call on the BBC to return to practicing the type of journalism that has won it international acclaim. We will continue to monitor the BBC to ensure that its reporting about blacks lives up to its own values.