Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


A balanced complaint

I caught part of a BBC2 documentary, Trump’s America a Newsnight Special, last night and was appalled by what I saw.

From my armchair I tweeted, and it seems a few people saw my tweets but they didn’t seem to make much of a difference except that I probably felt a bit better for having tweeted, as part of the general head-shaking in this post-election period. Tweeting was marginally better than laughing at Have I Got News for you? but still pretty passive.

Frances Bell's tweets about Newsnight documentary

Frances Bell’s tweets about Newsnight documentary

Today I plan to watch the whole documentary on iPlayer (sorry that won’t be available to all of you). Then this morning on Facebook, I noticed that George Roberts was making a complaint to the BBC about an item on the Today radio programme.

As a tiny step towards action, I compiled my first ever complaint to the BBC, and I have included the text of it below the video.

“Last night I watched the segment of the Newsnight Documentary where Emily Maitlis interviewed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the editor in chief of the American Spectator, R Emmett Tyrrell. Emily did her best to raise the issue of Donald Trump’s racism with both interviewees. Chimamanda was articulate and addressed the points that Emily raised but Emmett Tyrrell was an embarrassment to watch. He rambled, tried to compare KKK with the Knights of St Columba to justify why we need not be concerned about Trump being supported by them, rejected Chimamanda’s valid point on why oppressed people may vote for oppressors. He clearly forgot, or couldn’t cope with the strangeness to him of, Chimamanda’s name at one point. He rejected what he interpreted as Chimamanda’s use of false consciousness as ‘Marxist’ and completely failed to address what she said about his inability to define racism.
My complaint is about the decision to include Emmett Tyrrell in this segment. Was it for reasons of ‘balance’? Surely you could have found a Trump supporter capable of reasoned argument. Even if no such person exists, you could have found someone who didn’t necessarily agree with her to listen and respond to Chimamanda. How fortunate you were to have her on the show, and her contribution was diminished by the presence of someone unsuited to documentary debate.
Please could you tell me:
why Tyrell was invited?
Is there a policy in place that requires balance at the expense of the quality of the exploration of issue?
What role does an interviewer play in choice of interviewees? ”

Whilst I was compiling my complaint, I saw that someone had posted a youtube video of the subject of my complaint which allows me to share it with those who can’t get iplayer. I contributed to the Facebook thread with this comment

My Facebook Comment

My Facebook Comment

I won’t reproduce the conversation from the semi-private space of Facebook but happy for others involved to comment here. I mentioned my guess about a white male as that was relevant to the original post. One response to me was strange. Whilst decrying people looking everywhere for someone to blame for the Trump, he appeared (in his response to  me a white woman) to blame the demographic of white women for Clinton not being elected.  What I have learned from painful reflection on my own white privilege has strengthened my feminism.

So here is what I think:

Any black or brown person who reads this post is perfectly entitled to ignore or mock my thoughts and actions. They can, but don’t have to, point out any inevitable misconceptions that stem from my white privilege because it isn’t their responsibility to educate me – I have to do that for myself. Black and brown Americans have every right to be angry about the way others voted, the Democrats for failing to deliver and the (in)actions of others, not least because it is the black and brown people who will most affected by this electoral result.

But what I learned from watching Chimamanda when she told Emmett Tyrell that he had no right to define racism, is that I don’t have to take being told by a white man that the demographic of white women prevented Hillary Clinton being elected. Because a white man being angry at white women for this is sexist.  I don’t feel anger at his comments – I’m grateful that he helped to improve my complaint, and my resolve to learn and take action (that goes beyond social media).

I will let you know of any outcome of the complaint in the comments, so subscribe to the post if you are interested. This is a tiny piece of activity but one thing that my network has shown me this week is that we need to work together and support others, particularly those who are disproportionately damaged by an outcome they voted against.

Thanks to something George Roberts said on Facebook about another BBC programme, I actually got my act together to make a formal complaint. Check out the page if you feel moved to complain about BBC programmes in future.

actionBBCChimamanda AdichiecomplaintelectionEmily MaitlisEmmett Tyrrellgenderlearningpoliticsracismsexismsocial mediaTrump

francesbell • November 12, 2016

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  1. Maha Bali November 12, 2016 - 3:18 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing and reacting. Chimamanda was brilliant (as usual) but honestly the interviewer question was NOT smart. Donald Trump is a racist because if things HE said, not just because KKK like him. When she brought up things Trump said she didn’t mention enough (Chimamanda mentioned just one – the guy just said “but he said other things”). But yes the white male guy was ridiculous and condescending. I am following to know what happens I with your complaint

  2. Gill Winn November 12, 2016 - 9:44 pm Reply

    I agree completely with you both. What a silly and racist man – completely unable to see anyone else’s viewpoint. I was cross with the interviewee Emily Maitis – I really thought she seemed nervous of the man from the American newspaper. So many people are being intimidated by the rich and powerful – the very people who are causing problems for the poor and marginalised of society. And they blame other disadvantaged groups because they don’t want people to turn the spotlight on them. I hope the BBC will invite Chimamanda back or maybe on Question Time if she can stand being on with the awful right wingers they usually choose!

    • francesbell November 12, 2016 - 10:29 pm Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Gill. I would be amazing to have people of Chimamanda’s calibre on BBCQT.
      This afternoon I viewed the whole documentary on iPlayer and I realised that the video I have included here is of the second segment of the interview. In the first segment I think that Emily made a better shot at challenging Tyrrell but he was completely impossible. To me both Emily and Chimamanda seemed a little bemused but I agree Emily could do better. I was curious to know what say she had in the choice of interviewee, and that’s why I included that in my complaint.

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