The director general of the BBC, Tim Davie, has endorsed a statement from Woman’s Hour which says the programme will “reflect” on concerns raised by an interview with Zara Mohammed, the first woman to lead the Muslim Council of Britain.
Earlier this week 200 people, including more than 100 public figures such as the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, the Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Naz Shah, and the comedian Deborah Frances-White, signed an open letter to the BBC criticising the “strikingly hostile” interview with Mohammed on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
The letter, organised by the writers Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Mariam Khan, called on the BBC to diversify its editorial and production team and better engage with Britain’s Muslims. It claimed that the line of questioning in Mohammed’s interview reinforced “damaging and prejudicial tropes” about Islam and Muslim women.
In response to the letter, Davie said: “As an employer and a broadcaster paid for by the public, we have a duty to reflect the whole of the UK in our staff and within our programmes.”
He added: “You are correct, across the BBC, representation of Muslims within our staff is lower than the national average but it is not as low as you suggest.” Just over 2.5% of the BBC workforce had identified as Muslim, he said: “I want to assure you that improving the representation of our staff is a key priority for me and my executive team. We have more work to do but we are determined to get there.”
Davie’s response included a statement by Women’s Hour, which said: “While we appreciate that people can sometimes have very differing responses to our live interviews and discussions, we believe it was legitimate for the programme to seek to explore some of the issues facing Muslims in the UK.”
The statement added: “Woman’s Hour, however, has always been a programme that listens to feedback and learns from the responses we receive; we will reflect on the issues and concerns you raise in this open letter.”
Davie said he agreed with the response and invited the organisers behind the open letter to meet senior colleagues at the BBC to talk about the points they had raised.
Other signatories of the letter included the Labour MPs Zarah Sultana and Apsana Begum; the director of the Class thinktank, Faiza Shaheen; Nikesh Shukla, author and editor ofthe Good Immigrant; Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens, the theologian Dr Amina Wadud, and the media company Gal Dem.