A treasury Minister has launched an outspoken attack on the BBC for ‘fanning the flames of racial division’ after its coverage of a Commons speech in which she defended the Government’s record on ethnic minority issues.
Kemi Badenoch, who was born in London to Nigerian parents, attacked the corporation for reporting Thursday’s speech – in which she said Ministers were examining why members of ethnic minorities were at higher risk of Covid-19 – under the headline: ‘Minister rejects systemic racism claims.’
A furious Ms Badenoch, writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, says: ‘I did no such thing; in fact, the phrase ‘systemic racism’ was not used once in the debate.
‘This article was shared on social media thousands of times and believed because it was from a trusted source.’
Community Affairs correspondent Rianna Croxford has been criticised by Kemi Badenoch MP
She added that ‘sloppy, agenda driven journalism of this sort fans the flames of racial division’.
Ms Badenoch, who also serves as an Equalities Minister, described a subsequent BBC article, by community affairs correspondent Rianna Croxford, as ‘even more damaging’ because it questioned whether the Government’s review into coronavirus risk factors had actually been led by black doctor Professor Kevin Fenton, as claimed by Public Health England.
She said: ‘In a rush to discredit the Government, the BBC downplayed the contributions made by an eminent, black physician, seeking to undermine the Government’s ability to reach out to these communities that desperately need help.’
Ms Badenoch also accuses Labour and SNP MPs of repeating racially charged claims in the chamber such as ‘being black is a death sentence’ – at a time when the streets around the Commons were thronged with ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters demonstrating in the wake of the death of George Floyd in America.
It is the latest flash point between the BBC and a senior member of the Government.
Last month, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned the corporation that it risked losing the public’s confidence after a series of controversies about political bias, writing to outgoing BBC director-general Tony Hall to urge him to ‘uphold the highest standards in relation to integrity and impartiality’.
It came in the wake of a Panorama programme critical of the Government’s handling of Covid-19.
Kemi Badenoch MP has written in today’s Mail on Sunday on the BBC’s agenda driven commentary
It was revealed after the broadcast that the medical professionals interviewed on the programme were Left-wing activists.
Relations between the Government and the BBC have been strained since the election, when No10 accused the corporation of persistent bias.
The tensions deepened after the corporation received tens of thousands of complaints when presenter Emily Maitlis used an introduction to Newsnight to accuse Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings of ‘breaking lockdown rules’.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘There was a heated debate in the House of Commons which we covered carefully and responsibly, but one of the words was incorrect in our online piece so we corrected it once we became aware of the error.’
Kemi Badenoch has criticised what she believes was a misrepresentation of her speech by the BBC
My fears over sloppy, agenda-driven journalism that is destroying trust
By Kemi Badenoch
The disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on black and minority ethnic people has been one of the most troubling aspects of the pandemic – and the Government was right to seek the expert guidance of Professor Kevin Fenton, an eminent black physician at Public Health England, to examine the issue.
So when, as Equalities Minister, I stood up in the Commons to discuss his review and its conclusions, I expected tough questions.
This, after all, has been a week of heightened emotion about racial divisions. Unfortunately, clumsy attempts at scrutiny by some MPs and commentators unintentionally risk inflaming racial tensions.
Updating Parliament on the review, Labour MPs repeated racially charged claims such as: ‘Being black is a death sentence.’
One SNP MP conflated all black people with recent immigrants. This language does nothing to calm tensions at a time when politicians need to set an example.
Far more irresponsible though, was the BBC’s coverage of the debate – with the headline: ‘Minister rejects systemic racism claims’. I did no such thing.
In fact, the phrase ‘systemic racism’ was not used once in the debate. The BBC report was shared on social media thousands of times and believed because it was from a trusted source. This is incredibly harmful.
By implying that a black Minister has, out of hand, rejected racism as a factor, the hard work done by many ethnic minorities in Government, the NHS and Public Health England is discredited, trust is lost and race relations become worse.
Yes, there are gaps in PHE’s review. By its nature, it highlights what we don’t know and must investigate further.
We will build on this work, engaging with individuals and organisations within communities, to protect lives in this pandemic.
But sloppy, agenda-driven journalism of this sort fans the flames of racial division. The BBC has since edited its headline and made marginal alterations to the story, but the damage has been done.
A second BBC article was even more damaging, claiming that Prof Fenton played only a minor role in the review.
Prof Fenton led the work on the review looking into the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities and the report provided a quantitative analysis of this alongside other factors such as age and gender.
I will be building on his valuable work and engagement with BAME communities in the next phase.
In a rush to discredit the Government, the BBC downplayed the contributions made by an eminent, black physician, seeking to undermine the Government’s ability to reach out to these communities that desperately need help.
Sadly, some are willing to casually dismiss the contribution of people who don’t conform to their expectation of how ethnic minorities should think and behave.
This, in itself, is racist. The policing of black people in public life is intended to scare them away from working with a Conservative Government.
How can you claim the Tories are racist when so many BAME people are happy to work with them at the highest levels of Government?
When discussing such sensitive topics, commentary must be accurate and responsible.
We need to be more circumspect; we need real journalism, not campaigning.
We must address prejudice but this is impossible if our national broadcaster, politicians and commentators play a social media game to achieve outrage rather than enlightenment.
We must combat the real inequities in society, but we do everyone a disservice if we give in to culture warriors whose relevance depends on inflaming tensions.
By hijacking the Government’s work to improve the lives of BAME people, those spoiling for a fight are sacrificing the hope of so many young people for little more than clicks, likes and retweets.