Saturday 25 June 2022

The Misadventures of the BBC Complaints Unit

Connoisseurs of BBC complaints might like to read a fascinating series of exchanges published at History Reclaimed. The complaint, which has been ongoing for over three months, relates to The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan, a BBC Two documentary from March. The complainant, Chris Tett, takes aim at the section where Romesh went to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, and visited the fort on Bunce Island where slaves were held before being shipped to the Americas. Mr Tett calls what followed “a defamation of Britain by a biased selection of facts” and lays out a series of points that weren't mentioned, among them that Britain set up Freetown for freed slaves and brought 150,000 there:
Ranganathan said that slave trading was something “..the white British did..” - a racist statement ignoring African involvement. British involvement in the slave trade was shameful but could not have taken place without active involvement of Africans. The programme covered the history of Freetown without mentioning who set it up or efforts by Britain to end the slave trade. African involvement in the trade was not mentioned at all.
Mr Tett also noted the following:
In Freetown, slaves freed by the Royal Navy walked through the ‘Freedom Arch’ to the Old King’s Yard to be given treatment and food. Declared a National Monument in 1949, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its website says, “The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard compares with the Statue of Liberty in the United States in enduring as a highly potent symbol, inspiring contemplation of ideals such as freedom, human rights, democracy and opportunity…”. Surely such a monument was worth showing. But no mention.
The BBC's initial response essentially blames “time constraints” and lists what the programme did cover. Mr Tett responded by saying that the BBC reviewer “ignored or completely missed the point of my complaint”, which was about “a lack of balance” and the “racist intent” behind statements like “..something the white British did”. As for “time constraints”, he observes that:
There is little difference in airtime between the statement made: ‘Freetown was set up for freed slave’ and an alternative ‘Britain set up Freetown for freed slaves’? Again, what is the different between the statement made ‘Freed slaves were brought to Freetown’ and an alternative ‘British Navy ships brought slaves they had freed to Freetown’?
In response, the BBC said that Mr Tett was “incorrect” to suggest that the programme stated that slavery was “something the white British did”, quoting from the programme: “It would be very easy for me to say, ‘Well, this is what white British people did, my parents come from Sri Lanka, so this is nothing to do with me.’ But the truth of it is, is that my parents wanted a better life for their children. And the reason that they moved over to the UK is because of the economic, the infrastructure, all of these things, the, the standard of living that is built upon benefits that were gleaned from slavery…. You know, you can’t just go, ‘this is nothing to do with me’. It is part of British history, it’s part of black British history, and it should be acknowledged as such.” As for “time constraints” defence, the BBC simply repeated it, perhaps sensing that they were on weaker ground there.

Mr Tett has tried again. Here's his latest response in full:
I am glad the second reviewer admits what was said. Quoting the full context does not alter the sentiment which was that slavery was “…. something the white British did. …..” adding “It is part of British history…” Romesh added “…. the standard of living that is built upon benefits that were gleaned from slavery” which is much disputed by some very eminent economic historians. Your reviewer then adds “…. these are Romesh’s views on the complex legacy of slavery.”

Your reviewer also stated this was a travel programme. Well, it took time to delve into history in a way to discredit Britain. The programme sets out clearly racist views because the whole programme section blames the white British for the slave trade and mentions only items which discredit British history.

There is much for Britain to be proud of in Freetown, including the UNESCO World Heritage site. Many more rescued slaves were taken to Freetown than ever were shipped as slaves from Bunce Island. Clearly a lack of balance was shown.

In a programme about Sierra Leone and Freetown that talks about history it would have been easy to mention that Freetown was set up by the British to take slaves freed by the Royal Navy where they would be safe because black Africans continued to enslave and sell other Africans. It did not. This clearly shows the programme makers wish to avoid mentioning anything good about Britain.

Let us be clear. A travel programme does not need to mention history but if it does, it needs to be balanced. This was not. Further, this programme was racially biased because it blamed only the British but did not mention black African involvement.

Some people are now claiming that the BBC has lost it impartiality and is keen to interpret history in an anti-British way. So far, they are proved right.

On to the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit then... 

Incidentally, just looking up the UNESCO World Heritage Site Chris Tett mentions, a Trip Advisor reviewer adds something intriguing

The original plaque clearly visible now joined by a modern one from the BBC. 

 Wonder what those plaques say?

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