BBC ‘impartiality’: the latest instalment


Well folks, here we go again. Just days after the BBC management caved in to the complaints of some well-known BAME shouters who did not like the fact that a ‘person of colour’ had been censured for breaching impartiality in her presenting role – Naga Munchetty – we get further evidence of the BBC’s version of ‘impartiality’.

This morning on the Today programme (Radio 4) we had Justin Webb making racist comments to a white guest who is standing in the London mayoral election AND expressing his view to said guest that the current mayor Sadiq Khan should be re-elected in order to meet the guest’s stated aims in his own candidacy.

Let’s look at some of the exchange between Justin Webb and Rory Stewart.

RS: I also believe that not only is British politics in danger of breaking into extremes, and I want to make a point for the independent voice against this….

JW: (interrupting RS) Sadiq Khan’s not an extremist…

RS:  No he’s not and nor indeed is the Conservative candidate, but I think British political parties are dragging towards the extremes, I think there is a gaping hole …

JW: (interrupting again)   But surely the way to stop that happening is for Sadiq Khan to be re-elected, to be a powerful force in Labour and for him to carry on saying the kind of things, including critical things, about the Labour leadership, that he has. You’re actually damaging the cause you say you want to assist.

RS:   I’m obviously not a partisan of Sadiq Khan’s or indeed of any political party. I think that mayoral roles can be done very well by independent candidates and I think that the danger of mayors being part of the political parties is that they carry the whole damage and the baggage of those manifestos with them.

I’m left wondering how exactly Webb jumped from Rory Stewart’s entirely reasonable comment about the drift towards extremism seen in our political parties to implying that he had claimed Khan is an extremist. Nothing in Stewart’s comments could have been taken to mean that the current mayor is an extremist. This in itself is problematic.

But then Webb compounded his ‘impartiality’ by stating that extremism could best be countered by Khan being re-elected – rather than any of the other candidates. He implied by this that Stewart was focusing on extremism in Labour. He was not. He had said that ‘British political parties are dragging towards the extremes’, which to any reasonable listener means ‘more than one party’. And is Sadiq Khan the only candidate in the race who can combat extremism? Why?

Since when is it acceptable for BBC presenters to twist words like this? Is Webb going to say the same thing to all the other candidates as well?

But then we get onto the next little gem. Webb disparaged Stewart’s candidacy because he is white and was privately educated at Eton. Funny that, coming from a white, privately educated presenter, but let’s not get too picky.

JW:   You mentioned you’re proud of the diversity of the mayoral race in London; you are a…a…a…white guy (laughs), an old Etonian. It’s not really 2020 is it, really, to be challenging a black man who is the Conservative candidate and the Muslim mayor.’

RS: You are absolutely right it is a fantastically diverse group of candidates which reflects a diverse ….(interrupted by JW) city.’

JW:   And you are saying ‘Don’t elect them, elect a white Etonian’.

RS: I’m definitely not saying that…I’m saying…(interrupted)

JW: (laughs) It kind of is what you’re saying, isn’t it, because you’re standing?

RS:   I am saying that you should not be voting for me on the basis of my ethnicity but on the basis of the fact that I feel that as an ex-cabinet minister, as someone who has run for big projects internationally, as somebody who can get things done and has proved in government that I can turn things around.

It seems that this sort of ‘impartiality’ now passes for normality at the BBC. Would it be acceptable to interview Shaun Bailey – the black Conservative candidate in the mayoral race – and suggest that he is asking to be elected because he’s a black guy who left school with 5 GCSEs?

And what about Sadiq Khan? Is he going to be questioned about expecting people to vote for him because he’s Muslim and his father was a bus driver? What about Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem candidate? A woman, a Catholic and her mother is Anglo-Indian. Is she going to be challenged on her schooling and her ethnicity? Is her Catholic faith going to be brought up as much as Khan’s Muslim faith is? And Sian Berry (Green)? Raised in Cheltenham and attended a grammar school before going up to Oxford. She’ll have to get a free pass on the Today programme because she’s a woman, but had she been a man – no chance. She’d be in the same reject bin as Rory Stewart with that background – unless she wanted to become a Today presenter, of course.

So there we have it.  Anti-white racism and selective elitism are alive and well at the BBC.

Licence-fee protests, anyone?


I complained to the BBC about this interview.  Here is their reply.

Thanks for contacting us about Radio 4’s Today broadcast 5 October.

We shared your reaction with the programme team, who review listener feedback on a daily basis.

During the interview, Rory Stewart was asked a number of questions, one of which was about the diversity of the mayoral race. Justin Webb was not making suggestions about whether or not Mr Stewart should stand as a mayoral candidate. Issues of diversity and representation have played a role in previous campaigning and this reflected that reality by allowing our guest to show how he would address that this time around.

Many thanks once again for taking the time to share your concerns.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints Team

I will leave readers to decide whether or not this actually answered my complaint.

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