Lessons to learn from the BBC’s mishandling of the Naga Munchetty complaint

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The facts

The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) held that Naga Munchetty broke editorial guidelines by giving her opinion on Donald Trump’s remarks and motives when he stated that several political opponents, all of whom were BAME women, to “go back” to the “places from which they came”. The decision followed a viewer’s complaint about the comments made during an interview on BBC Breakfast. It is important to note that the complaint about Munchetty’s comments on her own experiences of racism was not upheld.

The decision to partially uphold the complaint against Munchetty has led to widespread outrage, with many scrutinising the BBC and the complaints body’s own levels of diversity and transparency. Questions have been raised about Munchetty’s co-star Dan Walker, who took part in the same interview, but who escaped censure, despite the complaint being made against both presenters’ conduct.

Following growing concerns being raised about both the decision and the general process conducted by the ECU into the complaint, the BBC director general has since reversed the decision to partially uphold the complaint against Munchetty. He confirmed that: “There was never any sanction against Naga, and I hope this step makes that absolutely clear”.

Although this should be good news for those who opposed the censure, others are now calling into question the BBC’s ability to enforce its own policies and procedures, with a semi-independent body’s process and decision-making being interfered with by the BBC’s own director general.

The effect

This incident highlights the importance of having clear policies and procedures in place when it comes to dealing with complaints, whether that be in the form of grievances, or complaints from clients/customers, and that when employees do call out racism or other wrong doing as part of any allegations it must be properly respected and handled with sensitivity.

Businesses should have clear policies in place, so that all employees understand what is expected of them. This may take the form of a Staff Handbook. Organisations may also want to consider offering training and support sessions to their staff to reinforce the policies that are integral to their business. All policies/procedures should be applied consistently to all employees across the business.

Once a complaint is made, it should be treated appropriately and investigated thoroughly, utilising all available and relevant evidence. During any investigation and subsequent decision, protection and support should be given to those involved, including maintaining confidentiality where possible and appropriate.

All records should be kept, including the evidence collected throughout the investigation, investigation notes and interview notes with any witnesses, where appropriate. Details of the complaint should be made available to the accused so that they have an opportunity to defend themselves and gather their own evidence.

Any decision should be impartial and unbiased and should be made by a person independent of the investigation stage, where possible. The decision should take into account all relevant evidence. Once a decision has been made, the accused should be given the chance to challenge/appeal it. Any appeal/challenge should also be dealt with independently, following the correct process.

The result

In a climate of uncertainty, employers can demonstrate consistency, reliability and transparency through having and following clear policies and procedures. This should ensure fair outcomes and in turn will minimise the risk of criticism that can follow what some may perceive as an unfair result/process.