The BBC has ruled that presenter Naga Munchetty broke new social media guidelines after liking a series of tweets about a row involving the union jack flag, but she has escaped punishment after swiftly owning her mistake.
The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit said in a ruling that Munchetty was wrong to like tweets that were “disparaging of the government’s use of patriotic symbols” after an on-air discussion on March 18, in which she and Breakfast co-host Charlie Stayt jibed government minister Robert Jenrick about the union jack flag in the back of his Zoom shot.
The ECU said Munchetty “risked giving the impression of endorsing one strand of opinion in a controversial area” and her activity was “in breach of the BBC’s standards of impartiality as they apply to social media activity by BBC staff engaged in journalism and factual programming.”
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The complaints unit stopped short of recommending punishment for the presenter, however. It said Munchetty removed the likes and apologized before complaints reached the BBC about her use of Twitter. “In the ECU’s view, this sufficed to resolve the issue of complaint,” it said.
At the time, Munchetty wrote: “I ‘liked’ tweets today that were offensive in nature about the use of the British flag as a backdrop in a government interview this morning. I have since removed these ‘likes’. This do not represent the views of me or the BBC. I apologise for any offence taken.”
It is one of the first high-profile tests of the BBC’s new social media rules, introduced by director general Tim Davie last October. Davie warned that on-screen talent could be fired for breaking the new rules, which urge employees to “think about what your likes, shares, retweets, use of hashtags and who you follow say about you, your personal prejudices and opinions.”
In addition to the Munchetty social media ruling, the BBC complaints unit cleared Breakfast of wrongdoing over the union jack flag debate involving justice secretary Jenrick. Presenter Stayt told Jenrick: “I think your flag is not up to standard size government interview measurements, I think it’s just a little bit small.” Munchetty also drew attention to a portrait of the Queen in the minister’s office.
After receiving 16 complaints from viewers who said the comments disrespectful, the ECU said it was a “jocular” exchange. “It was evident from the laughter audible in the studio that the remark was humorously intended, and from Mr Jenrick’s smile that it was taken in that spirit,” the unit said.
“In the ECU’s view the target of the humour was the prevalence of patriotic symbols as a backdrop for ministerial interviews, not what those symbols represent, and any offence on the part of viewers arose from a misunderstanding of the presenters’ intentions. It therefore did not uphold these complaints.”