Press "Enter" to skip to content

N-word row ripping the BBC apart: Bitter battle rages between the old and the new guard

They are two men called David – but the contrast between them could hardly be more stark.

A BBC ‘lifer’ of more than 30 years, David Jordan is the Corporation’s chief trouble-shooter tasked with upholding its editorial standards and investigating when Auntie gets it wrong.

Meanwhile, Jamaican-born David Whitely – better known as Sideman – is the razor-sharp comedian and presenter who landed a BBC radio show on the back of his huge popularity as a social media ‘influencer’.

Their two very different worlds collided last week when Mr Whitely resigned from BBC 1Xtra in protest at the decision by Mr Jordan’s department to defend the use, in full, of the N-word in a news report.

As the BBC desperately struggles to woo a younger, more ethnically diverse audience, the episode has shone a light on a cultural and generational clash at the heart of the Corporation.

Insiders say Mr Jordan – who is paid £177,000 a year – is attempting to protect the independence of reporters and editors by not bowing to noisy campaign groups and Britain’s mounting ‘cancel culture’.

Others argue that the Corporation’s mainly white, middle-age managers remain impervious to change and are undermining their £100 million drive to produce ‘diverse and inclusive content’.

Last Sunday, BBC director-general Tony Hall overruled Mr Jordan and apologised for the use of the racist slur.

His intervention is understood to have been prompted by fears of further resignations by black and ethnic minority presenters. However, it has failed to end the row. 

This weekend, a group of 100 black professional women said that Lord Hall’s apology – which came 12 days after the word was first broadcast – was ‘not enough’ and called for a 24-hour boycott of the BBC, starting at 9am on Wednesday.

Members of the InfluencHers campaign are also calling for the dismissal of Mr Jordan and the BBC’s director of news, Fran Unsworth, who is paid £340,000 a year. ‘The BBC’s gratuitous use of the N-word could constitute a race-hate crime,’ the group said.

BBC sources say that the Corporation remains gripped by confusion over whether or not there is now a blanket ban on the full use of the N-word.

Lord Hall accepted its use in a report about an attack on an NHS worker caused ‘distress’ and admitted the BBC ‘should have taken a different approach’.

Yet this newspaper has found eight examples of the word being used in full across five articles on the BBC News website. One, posted in 2016 about a BBC2 series called Black Is The New Black, used the word four times in just three paragraphs.

Another, posted in 2014 about a councillor using a racial slur live on BBC radio, contained the full N-word in its opening paragraph.

The latest controversy erupted after BBC social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin used the full N-word when reporting on a suspected race-hate attack against a musician known as K-Dogg. 

The 21-year-old was left with a broken leg, nose and cheekbone after being hit by a car as he walked home from his job at Southmead Hospital in Bristol on July 22.

In her report – broadcast on local news programme BBC Points West on July 28 before being repeated on the BBC News Channel the next morning – Ms Lamdin said: ‘As the men ran away they hurled racial abuse, calling him a n*****.’

The BBC was soon under fire from viewers and the report was pulled.

Critics included Megha Mohan, the Corporation’s gender and identity correspondent, who said: ‘By not saying the N-word, you send a clear signal that you will not normalise the most violent of language.

‘It blows my mind that this is open for interpretation or being justified.’ Insiders say Ms Lamdin recorded two versions of her report – one where the N-word was used in full and one where it wasn’t – and correctly sought advice from her bosses over which version to use.

Under the BBC’s editorial guidelines, only three swear words currently require a ‘mandatory referral’ to either a channel controller or editor.

The guidelines say the BBC’s editorial policy department, led by Mr Jordan, may also be consulted. Racist language, including the N-word, is not included on the list.

Yesterday it emerged that editorial director Kamal Ahmed has written to staff telling them any racist language on news and current affairs shows should now be referred to Ms Unsworth.

One source claimed Mr Jordan’s department was involved in the decision to use the full N-word in Ms Lamdin’s report – and then continued to defend the decision.

On August 4, the BBC issued a statement saying that while it accepted the use had ‘caused offence’, the decision had been made by ‘a number of senior editorial figures’ and was ‘editorially justified’.

It said K-Dogg’s family wanted the racist abuse he allegedly suffered to be reported in full. But the statement poured petrol on the fire and the Corporation was drowning under more than 18,500 complaints within 48 hours. Two days later Sideman quit.

With more than 290,000 Instagram followers, the DJ – who moved to Birmingham aged 11 – was regarded as a high-flyer destined for a prime slot on Radio 1.

He was last week described as an ‘absolute star’ by Greg James, presenter of the Radio 1 breakfast show, and his resignation received public support from Radio 1 DJ MistaJam and Radio London presenter Eddie Nestor.

The Mail on Sunday has learned that following an emergency meeting on the morning after Sideman resigned, Lord Hall decided to overrule Mr Jordan.

Sources say he feared that the DJ’s powerful resignation statement, published on Instagram, would spark a wave of resignations from other black and ethnic minority presenters. 

He is also said to believe it could undermine his efforts to improve the ethnic diversity of the Corporation’s output and both its on- and off-screen talent – something he regards as a key part of his legacy.

Lord Hall’s intervention was the second time in a year that he has overruled the BBC’s complaints unit and that has fuelled questions over Mr Jordan’s future.

Last September, he reversed a ruling that BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty had breached editorial guidelines when she condemned comments made by US President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s earlier statement justifying the N-word decision has been removed from its complaints website and replaced with Lord Hall’s announcement.

Lord Hall has promised to strengthen the BBC’s internal ‘guidance on offensive language across our output’ – which has been widely interpreted as the launch of a long-awaited review into exactly which words should not be broadcast.

Sources say Mr Jordan does not believe in a blanket ban on words and instead, as with Ms Lamdin’s report, judgments should be made on a case-by-case basis. One senior figure at the BBC suggested Mr Jordan had been ‘scapegoated’, adding: ‘I think some people are trying to say David’s unit got two things wrong on race and therefore they are a problem.

‘I think there is a dangerous trend. You can’t make editorial policy by having some sort of an opinion poll of either the staff inside the organisation or pressure groups outside the organisation. Bans are almost always a crude way of doing anything.’

Mr Jordan also received support from Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. ‘Speaking as a journalist, the reporter’s first job and his or her employer’s first job is to tell their readers, listeners and viewers the truth and the whole truth in all its particulars and that includes sometimes using terms which other people might find offensive or upsetting,’ he said.

‘The fact is what happened to this young man needs to be told in detail and that is a hundred times more important than the potential upset to any viewer.’

That has not stopped a torrent of fury from senior BBC staff at the way the controversy has been handled.

One BBC newsroom insider said Ms Lamdin had been ‘hung out to dry’ and urged the incoming director-general Tim Davie to overhaul the way the Corporation reacts during a crisis. ‘The BBC’s response was so cack-handed and slow,’ they said. ‘Why did it take so long to decide it was wrong? I just wish the BBC would make up its mind. If you see an open wound don’t let it bleed.’

Another senior BBC figure said: ‘If the BBC reached its decision through a proper editorial process, it should have been prepared to defend its position. Senior executives should have put their jobs on the line. What do these guys do to earn their salary other than hide most of the time? At the BBC there is always a desperation to spread the responsibility far and wide so it doesn’t stick to anyone.’

Last night, a BBC spokesman said ‘divisional directors have been asked to ensure a mandatory referral of all racially insulting language to them’. The BBC added: ‘Tony Hall has been quite clear we will be strengthening our guidance on offensive language across our output… Furthermore, work is being carried out on the use of language on the BBC and internally, led by our diversity and inclusion team.

‘Tony Hall apologised on behalf of the whole BBC and we are not apportioning blame to any individual.’

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *