John Sergeant has criticised the BBC for its handling of complaints against Breakfast host Naga Munchetty, saying the corporation acted with “incompetence”.
The BBC’s director-general, Lord Hall, recently reversed a decision to partially uphold a complaint against Munchetty for comments she made about US President Donald Trump during an on-air discussion with co-host Dan Walker.
Veteran broadcaster and former BBC political correspondent Sergeant said the issue should have been dealt with quietly by the corporation.
Sergeant, 75, told Radio Times magazine: “This was badly handled by BBC management and I’m not surprised that there have been angry comments from staff at closed meetings.
“The corporation has been accused of institutional racism. There have rightly been criticisms of the way Dan Walker wasn’t even involved in the original ruling, even though he was clearly egging on Naga to give her personal views.
“It looked to me like the return of our old friend: incompetence.”
He said it is a “sign of the times”, and that there is “increasing pressure” for presenters to become broadcasting personalities thanks to the rise of social media.
“Presenters, and especially BBC presenters, should not interview each other, and they should be careful about banter,” he said.
Former Strictly Come Dancing star Sergeant added: “These matters should also be dealt with by the editors on the spot.
“Complaints can be answered without slapping down the presenters in public, or trying to establish overly strict ground rules from on high.
“I fully support Naga. She is a very talented journalist and deserves to succeed.”
Sergeant said BBC bosses were “ultimately responsible” over the ruling, adding: “If there’s any danger of the BBC being found guilty of racism, they have no other option than to state firmly that this is not the case.
“But it should never have got that far. A quiet word of advice behind the scenes to the presenters would have made sure this problem did not arise.”
A complaint about Munchetty had been partially upheld by the BBC’s executive complaints unit (ECU) after she commented on remarks from Mr Trump, who told a group of female Democrats to “go back” to where they came from.
Lord Hall overturned the initial ruling by the ECU following a large public backlash.
Media watchdog Ofcom has since raised “serious concerns” about transparency in the BBC’s complaints process after the broadcaster failed to publish the reasoning for its initial decision over Munchetty, and the reversal.
Radio Times magazine is out on Tuesday.