Black Journalists Scold BBC for ‘Stunning Lack of Sensitivity’ in London Riots

The scathing letter says the world's largest news network should have a better analysis around race.

By Bryan Gerhart Aug 16, 2011

A string of questionable incidents at the BBC related to their handling of race has earned the news organization an open letter of concern from the National Association of Black Journalists.

The letter, sent earlier today, opens by stating that the NABJ "is disappointed to learn that the BBC, an organization long known for accuracy and impartiality, is failing to adhere to its own values." The group’s displeasure with the world’s largest broadcaster stems from the BBC’s inflammatory treatment of race in light of London’s recent riots, which racked the country for four days. They cite a number of incidents in their letter that display a "stunning lack of sensitivity" and ask whether they display "shocking incompetence or racism."

On August 8, during the peak of the rioting, the BBC’s phone-in radio program World Have Your Say posed a problematic query for its listeners, asking the startlingly simplistic question, "Is there a problem with young black men?" This infers, as the NABJ points out, that last week’s violence came only from the hands of Black Brits, and demonstrates that "black people in Britain have not been afforded the same respect given to others."

The NABJ also refers to a comment made by historian David Starkey on the BBC’s Newsnight television program. Stating that the problem with this month’s riots is that "the whites have become blacks," Starkey’s reference to the race of rioters went unchallenged by the program’s host. "By allowing the comment to go unchallenged," asked Gregory H. Lee Jr., President of the NABJ, "Was the BBC agreeing with the inference that becoming black is monolithically synonymous with being violent?"

According to the NABJ’s open letter, these episodes, along with a BBC anchor’s now-infamous mislabeling of veteran civil rights activist Darcus Howe as a former rioter, "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."