Up until Sunday, the BBC had staunchly defended social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin’s use of the word in describing a race hate attack, saying it had been signed off by senior editors and was justified by its context.
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But after receiving 18,656 complaints, staff voicing their concerns on social media, and the resignation of BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter Sideman over the issue, Hall has intervened.
In an email to staff today, the director general said: “It should be clear that the BBC’s intention was to highlight an alleged racist attack. This is important journalism which the BBC should be reporting on and we will continue to do so.
“Yet despite these good intentions, I recognise that we have ended up creating distress amongst many people. The BBC now accepts that we should have taken a different approach at the time of broadcast and we are very sorry for that. We will now be strengthening our guidance on offensive language across our output.”
Hall added: “Every organisation should be able to acknowledge when it has made a mistake. We made one here. It is important for us to listen – and also to learn. And that is what we will continue to do.”
Lamdin’s original report aired on regional BBC news service Points West on Tuesday, July 28. The report was repeated on the national BBC News channel the next day, when it prompted an outcry on social media.
During Lamdin’s description of the alleged race hate incident, in which a healthcare worker was hit by a car, she said: “Just to warn you, you’re about to hear highly offensive language because as the men ran away they hurled racial abuse, calling him a ‘n*****.’”
At the time, the BBC said the victim’s family “wanted to see the full facts made public.” It later added: “The decision to use the word was not taken lightly and without considerable detailed thought: we were aware that it would cause offence.”
It is the second time in less than a year that Hall has had to overrule his own staff on a matter relating to race. Last September, Hall reversed a decision to reprimand presenter Naga Munchetty for breaking impartiality rules over comments she made about Donald Trump.
Munchetty took issue with a now-infamous Trump tweet, in which he called on U.S. congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib to “go back to the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”