A guest on Emma Barnett’s Woman’s Hour pulled the plug on an interview at the last minute, after question were raised about alleged antisemitic comments made in the past.
In her first week on the job, the Jewish broadcaster was due to speak to actress Kelechi Okafor about the Me Too movement.
Okafor however pulled out at two-minutes notice, claiming she overheard Barnett talking about a 2017 incident to the show’s producers off air.
The actress caused outrage in 2017 when appearing to defend comments made by former BBC Radio presenter Reggie Yates. She said he was speaking “the truth”, when he praised grime artists for not being managed by “some random fat Jewish guy from north-west London”. She later defended those comments on a podcast, saying “I don’t see what he said wrong.”
In a note posted on Twitter, Barnett said: “Just before I went on air this morning to present a special programme about Me Too — pegged to the anniversary of Harvey Weinstein’s court case – it came to my attention that one of our guests, Kelechi Okafor, had made alleged antisemitic remarks.
— Emma Barnett (@Emmabarnett) January 6, 2021
“I was also sent a press report of the transcript of what she had said on her podcast supporting Reggie Yates’s comments about Jewish male managers and profits.
“As Weinstein is also Jewish and was referenced as part of this same podcast, I was discussing with my producers the role of this guest in light of her allegedly antisemitic comments. Kelechi overheard that chat on our open Zoom link – with two minutes to airtime.
“I then directly talked to Kelechi about the allegations, standing by my queries, and said she could put her response across in the programme. She denied the allegations and hung up, choosing to no longer be part of the programme.
“I stand by my questions to my team and to Kelechi. I would have happily hosted her on the programme with a question on this issue.”
Barnett, who started as the host of Woman’s Hour this week, continued: “I believe people can always answer for themselves – but equally it is my duty to ask people what qualifies them as a leading voice in a space. And about any previous issues which may influence their views.
“Any guest is entitled to make their own decisions about whether to appear on a programme but, in the interests of fairness, I feel it’s important to add some detail to the accounts that are currently circulating in the press and social media.
“Woman’s Hour is a wonderful platform known for its robust journalism and asking all of the questions that need asking. I am greatly enjoying my first week.”
Okafor responded on Twitter, saying what she’d heard was “absolutely degrading and vile.
Hi guys I’m coming off woman’s hour because what I’ve just had to witness is absolutely degrading and vile.
— machine gun Kele (@kelechnekoff) January 6, 2021
“The host didn’t realise her mic was on as she was talking about me before the interview started is all I’m going to say”
“You can have a genuine concern about something you’ve been told about me and address it in a manner that is kind”.
Barnett took over hosting the popular Radio 4 show from Jane Garvey and Dame Jenni Murray, who both stepped down last year.
A BBC spokesperson said: ‘During an off-air conversation ahead of the programme, Emma Barnett and the production team talked about a guest’s role in the discussion and how to reflect some of the guest’s alleged previous comments and the issue of anti-Semitism as part of the Woman’s Hour discussion on the role of minority voices in the MeToo movement.
“This was also raised directly with the guest before going on air.”
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