FOR over a week now the BBC has been wrestling with the nuances of a single viewer’s complaint involving the Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty after the BBC partially upheld a complaint against her for offering a personal view on Donald Trump ’s remarks demanding that a group of black and minority politicians “go back” to their own country.

A prominent group of professionals from diverse backgrounds, including Lenny Henry and Channel 4 news journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, rose to Munchetty’s defence arguing that race and racism are not matters of balance or editorial equilibrium and that she was speaking, albeit tangentially, against a wrong from her own personal experience.

Set against the diversity lobby was Lord Grade, who backed the BBC’s original judgement to condemn Munchetty. In a column in The Times entitled “BBC has made a mockery of impartiality”, he argued that Munchetty had crossed a thin line “by offering a personal opinion about a president”. It’s unclear if Grade considers other presidents as worthy of protection – Kim Jong-un of North Korea, Vladimir Putin of Russia? Or does impartiality only stretch to our historic allies?

The BBC has faced a testing time seeking to transform the corporation’s track-record on diversity and many of those who wrote to castigate the original judgement were among the BBC’s so-called “critical friends”.

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After all the exhaustive work streams, Lord Hall must have been aghast seeing a young British-Asian woman being singled-out for criticism for referring to her own experiences of racism, while her white, male co-host who invited her comment did not form part of the successful complaint.

For all its lumbering faults, the corporation and its staff have worked hard to change public opinion about on-screen diversity and its recruitment practices. But success off-screen can often be undermined by high-profile setbacks on-screen.

The Munchetty saga is not simply about race, it calls into question the ambiguous notion of “impartiality” and its close cousins – balance and objectivity.

Issues like racism, rape, genocide, sex trafficking or famine are among the big moral imperatives of our era and they do not evoke impartiality. These are not subjects which invite binary notions of balance: there is no upside to sex trafficking and no “on the other hand” about rape. How can we be truly impartial on these subjects? It is demanding false conscience or a dubious mask of neutrality.

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A presenter’s role varies according to the show and the context. Sometimes a good presenter, like the referee in a tetchy football match, is best advised to be invisible and let the show run. On other shows they bring different perspectives into account, or give voice to the questions that viewers and listeners might want answers to – and in some cases they act as a devil’s advocate, challenging dominant thinking about an issue The most obvious place to start with the Munchetty saga is the show itself. Breakfast is a hybrid of news and light entertainment and so negotiating the junctions is fraught with difficulties, as items suddenly veer from breast cancer to baking shows, or from famine to Father Brown.

One of the most infuriating things about the show and the one that does more damage to its reputation is the way it shamelessly plugs other BBC shows, even dedicating whole chunks of the programme to how fellow presenters are faring on Strictly Come Dancing. As a viewer, these promotional trails and studio chats beg a very obvious question – is the show impartial, or is it part of the formidable armoury of the BBC’s promotions team?

Although I know little about Naga Munchetty’s life, strangely I know a lot more about her colleague Louise Minchin, once a runner-up on Celebrity Masterchef and whose endurance as a triathlete has led to her becoming a member of Great Britain’s age-group triathlon team. Both these achievements were marked on the show, but neither generated any complaint, and on the contrary are seen as part of her personal hinterland, giving her depth and character as a presenter. Being a good cook is something you can comfortably talk about on the sofa, but being the victim of racism in your childhood is somehow more risky?

I often wonder where political impartiality begins and ends in national broadcasting. Jonny Dymond and Nicholas Witchell are employed as royal correspondents at the BBC, although you would be hard pushed to describe them as impartial, since the very definition of their job is to report on the royals, never to hold them to account and certainly not to advocate their overthrowal. On the contrary, gaining access to palace information and gossip is predicated on taking a benign attitude to the dysfunctional Royal Family.

In an organisation that agonises about impartiality, you will struggle to find a republican correspondent or even a journalist tasked with reflecting alternative constitutional models. A recent survey suggests that anywhere between 22%-50% of television viewers hold republican or anti-monarchy attitudes, but these are rarely reported and never given the legitimacy of a dedicated reporter.

For the BBC, the monarchy is an ideologically settled matter and not one that invites debate.

It is common within British news coverage to come across subjects where a settled consensus is in play. This week there has been extensive coverage of the World Athletics Championships in Qatar. The consensus seems to be that an empty stadium, blistering heat and a lack of financial transparency make Qatar an inappropriate place to host a major tournament. It is such a settled opinion that presenters feel emboldened to voice their opinions without fear of comeback. Despite obvious counter-arguments, such as broadening athletic participation in the Middle East or diversifying a global event away from Europe and America, you never hear these voiced.

Such is the settled consensus against Qatar that some journalists have ventured to talk about “funny money”, bribes and dark finances. It is a more-than-welcome observation, but I doubt concerns about “dark money” would stretch so brazenly about Brexit or constitutional pressure groups like Scotland In Union.

Much as I respect journalists who put their lives at risk or who battle insurmountable odds to file stories, I question whether impartiality is their motive. Equally, there are many hard-working journalists, but being hard-working is not the same as being impartial. There are many inspired writers pursuing passions about the environment or women’s rights, but their passion does not make them dispassionate nor impartial. Nor should it.

We are at a crossroads where the whole notion of impartiality is under duress. There are signs that even the BBC, cautious with every move it makes, is nudging slowly towards a much more credible flagship -– the idea of diversity of opinion and perspective. These terms are increasingly evident in the BBC’s producer guidelines, the in-house bible guiding programme makers.

For Scotland, it may yet bring to an end the suffocating programme prerogatives that frame debate around the traditional party political circus. As a viewer, I’d much rather watch shows rich with different perspectives, rather than an impartial cacophony of “SNP bad” reactions trotted out by a phalanx of opposition politicians.

And spare us another BBC Scotland cliche, the intrepid journalist in Buchanan Street desperate for a vox pop to give superficial balance to an item, no matter how ludicrously ill-informed the opinion.

Spare us impartiality if it degrades important debates and undermines intelligent thought.