Aug 17, 2011

The BBC broadcast a program covering the London riots called "Is there a problem with young black men?" Of course the provocative title provided for a very interesting and slanted show. Many people expressed their disgust with the show causing the BBC to issue an apology (how convenient):

The BBC has apologised after broadcasting a programme on the riots under the heading: "Is there a problem with young black men?"

The title of the show, broadcast to an international audience on the World Service's World Have Your Say programme, provoked an angry response on online forums and several readers complained to The Voice, a news website aimed at Britain's black communities.

"People are outraged because it is such an ignorant question. It is not a brilliant or even thought-provoking debate," one said.

In its apology, the BBC expressed regret for causing offence while explaining the circumstances under which the programme had been made.

"The original headline question that appears online was, in hindsight, too stark and could have been clearer. We apologise for any offence it caused," said a spokesman.

At the top of the programme, broadcast at the height of the riots earlier this month, presenter Nuala McGovern told listeners: "Many of you who got in touch with the BBC pointed fingers directly at young black men after seeing pictures of the riots."

She added: "We are asking, is there a problem with young black men?"

Yesterday, the actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, a former star of the BBC hospital drama Casualty, was among those supporting an online petition for the BBC to make a more formal apology.

Others took to the World Have Your Say Facebook page to complain. One contributor, Justin Ford, wrote: "I'm a young man and there aren't any problems with me. The very wording of this discussion scares me."

The BBC spokesman pointed out that the programme was not intended to demonise young black men. "It was a responsible attempt to debate social attitudes towards young black men including whether they were unfairly blamed for causing trouble," he said.

"Riots were underway as the programme went to air and it was made clear on several occasions that those involved came from a range of ages, backgrounds and ethnicities."

The BBC's comments followed another apology made to the commentator Darcus Howe, who was wrongly accused by a BBC television presenter last Tuesday of having taken part in riots in the past. source

Click here to listen to the BBC 'World Have Your Say' Segment, 'Is There Something Worng With Black men?'

Not too amused by this type of inciteful programming, the National Association of Black Journalists wrote an open letter condemning the BBC and their practices:

Dear BBC:

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.


Gregory H. Lee Jr.|
NABJ President


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