The BBC has suspended Asian Network DJ Tommy Sandhu over “lewd comments and racist slurs” made about a female radio producer, by his colleagues in WhatsApp groups.
The Daily Mail article on the topic waits until the 12th paragraph to reveal that their sources told them that Sandhu “did not make derogatory comments himself and was simply part of WhatsApp groups where some of the remarks were made”.
The BBC have opened an investigation and taken disciplinary action. The London-born host is “currently fighting to save his job at the BBC, where he is also an occasional host of The One Show and BBC1’s religious and current affairs show Sunday Morning Live!” the newspaper adds.
Firstly, let me state, and let it not be mistaken, that I fully believe that if we witness people making sexist or racist remarks, we cannot be complicit in it and we must speak up. However, peer pressure can be strong and sometimes, we think that staying quiet is safer than kicking up a fuss.
I feel sorry for Tommy Sandhu. He was part of a lads Whatsapp group and his media colleagues shared inappropriate content. Now his reputation has taken a huge hit.
It appears that he hasn’t even actually done anything wrong, but the damage has been done. As an independent journalist with this black mark on his reputation, Sandhu may well struggle to make ends meet for the next 6-12 months, or more. I hope he is given a chance to prove that he made no racist or sexist remark – and that we all, the Sikh community in particular, do not prematurely judge him.
It is also very hypocritical for the Daily Mail to call anyone out for racism and/or misogyny. I do not trust this media outlet as any sort of bastion of fairness. I think, before considering this newspaper’s view, we Sikhs have to ask what has the Daily Mail ever done for us?
In fact, in the past 40 years, a serious question must be asked: what exactly has the BBC done for Sikhs?
I don’t object to Tommy Sandhu’s suspension, in theory, but…
A suspension for most people means privately being told to take some time at home to reflect.
A suspension for Tommy Sandhu is a news article in the Daily Mail, which, like it or despise it, is one of the most popular websites in the world.
A suspension for him means the Asian community, and the non-Asian community too, gossiping about him, sending Whatsapp messages and posting social media links to that article.
It means that for the foreseeable future, Tommy Sandhu is virtually unemployable; few people will give him a chance to work for them on a freelance basis, after all, he’s a racist misogynist now.
And for what? Receiving a text from a colleague?
A familiar scene
This event serves as a reminder for us all that we are living in changing times and have to be a lot more careful of what we say, who we say it to and where we say it. And this event in particular hits quite close to home for me.
I remember when broadcast journalist Hardeep Kohli was “graduating” from the ethnic and regional BBC programming channels to national TV and radio, he was hit with a similar scandal. Kohli was accused of being a sex pest and the story was told to the papers, as Kohli was hung out to dry by the BBC.
I’ve met Hardeep, he’s a laugh. He has an edgy sense of humour – that’s exactly why he was so successful and why the BBC gave him more airtime in the first place. His crime, which was reported nationally as a scandal, was telling a sexist joke.
BBC’s Own Scandals
It looks to me like the BBC encourages certain behaviours, and then when it suits them, hangs those people out to dry. Let’s not forget how they tried to silence Sikh spokesperson Jagmeet Singh during his appearance on live TV.
“They show a very narrow representation of what a Sikh is and what Sikhs are,” Jagmeet Singh told Vice magazine at the time. “Even when the BBC reported figures for the 1984 massacre, they downplayed the figure drastically. They have an agenda to suppress the Sikh voice.”
Let us not forget how last year, the BBC orchestrated the on-air resignation of a Labour politician to catch Jeremy Corbyn off-guard. Or how this year it was revealed that of those at the BBC earning £150,000 per year or more, 62 were men, and only 34 were women.
And Heaven forbid we forget how the BBC kept quiet for decades about the sexual abuse of children that took place at the company’s headquarters by the likes of Rolf Harris, Dave Lee-Travis and Jimmy Savile.
Tommy Sandhu’s punishment was worse than the offenders’. His is the biggest profile and he has suffered the most. He was in the headline and photo of the Daily Mail article. Make no mistake, this is not “fair and balanced” reporting, but character assassination.
Yet Tommy Sandhu is a small fish in a massive pond. I believe that the BBC, and other media and non-media organisations too, like to have as much control of their resources as possible, and talented British-Asian media personalities are a scarce but valuable resource.
People will applaud this move by the BBC as an opportunity to weed out racist and misogynistic behaviour in the community. And, in my opinion, Tommy should do the same.
He should tell his story, and explain how the BBC, and the UK for that matter, only accepts structural racism. He should use this as an opportunity to ask questions such as: “Why is there little to no coverage about the Racial Pay gap?”
The results of the BBC pay gap survey that was reported so widely, incidentally, revealed that just 11 of those at the BBC earning over £150,000 are of ethnic minority. And none were in the top 24 highest earners.
This is an opportunity for Tommy Sandhu to be more successful than he would have been otherwise, by simply telling his story. It is one we Sikhs have heard before.