BBC 'sneers at people for being patriotic', claims culture secretary

Ross McGuinness
·3 min read
BBC Breakfast presenters Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty have been criticised for their comments about ministers using Union flags in interviews. (BBC)
BBC Breakfast presenters Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty have been criticised for their comments about ministers using Union flags in interviews. (BBC)

BBC presenters have been accused of “sneering” at patriots by a government minister.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden waded into the row over Union flags by criticising the corporation.

He told Times Radio on Sunday that the BBC has a duty to show “genuine impartiality”.

His comments follow an appearance on BBC Breakfast earlier this month in which housing secretary Robert Jenrick was mocked by presenters over the size of the flag in his office after a video interview.

Dowden said: “They do need to reflect all different parts of the United Kingdom, not just the Brightons and the Bristols and the Hackneys of this world but also the Leighs and the Dudleys and the Boreham Woods of this world.

“Sometimes comments like the ones in that interview begin to stray from banter into a sneering… against attitudes that are held by many people in this country.”

The BBC declined to comment on the culture secretary's remarks.

File photo dated 27-09-2020 of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has criticised the BBC over the Union flag row. (PA)

Following the BBC Breakfast interview with Jenrick, presenter Charlie Stayt joked about how ministers have placed flags in the background of video calls during lockdown, saying: “I think your flag is not up to standard size, government interview measurements.

“I think it’s just a little bit small, but that’s your department really. It’s just a thought.”

His co-presenter Naga Munchetty said: “There’s always a flag. They had the picture of the Queen though. In the Westminster office I am assuming.”

Last week, the BBC said the pair had been “reminded of their responsibilities” after the interview.

The broadcaster said it had received complaints from viewers who were “unhappy” about Stayt’s comments and Munchetty’s subsequent behaviour on social media.

She previously apologised for liking tweets which she said were “offensive in nature about the use of the British flag as a backdrop in a government interview”.

A statement from the BBC said: “At the end of a long, serious interview with the housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick, Charlie Stayt made an off the cuff remark about the size of the flag behind Mr Jenrick.

“It was meant as a light-hearted, off the cuff comment and no offence or disrespect was intended.

“Naga and Charlie have been spoken to and reminded of their responsibilities, including the BBC’s impartiality and social media guidelines.”

The BBC’s new director-general Tim Davie warned staff over their use of social media in September last year.

Watch: BBC could suspend presenters' Twitter accounts

The corporation later published new impartiality guidelines that warned employees not to bring the corporation “into disrepute” with their behaviour online.

Last Wednesday, Dowden announced that the Union flag is to be flown on government buildings every day across England, Scotland and Wales.

He said: “The Union flag unites us as a nation and people rightly expect it to be flown above UK government buildings.

Britain's Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick walks through Downing Street in London on December 1, 2020 to attend the weekly cabinet meeting held at the nearby Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. - UK lawmakers were set to vote on a new toughened system of tiered coronavirus restrictions on December 1 with a sizable rebellion of governing Conservative party members expected. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
A BBC Breakfast interview with housing minister Robert Jenrick sparked complaints. (AFP via Getty Images)

“This guidance will ensure that happens every day, unless another flag is being flown, as a proud reminder of our history and the ties that bind us.”

Jenrick said: “Our nation’s flag is a symbol of liberty, unity and freedom that creates a shared sense of civic pride.

“People rightly expect to see the Union flag flying high on civic and government buildings up and down the country, as a sign of our local and national identity.

“That’s why I am calling on all local councils to fly the Union flag on their buildings – and today’s guidance will enable them to do that.”

Watch: How England will leave lockdown