More than 100 TV and film staff accuse BBC of double standards over racism

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More than 100 TV and film staff accuse BBC of double standards over racism

Furious media professionals complain about the use of cricket commentator Qasim Sheikh, accused of sharing antisemitic messages and posts excusing 7 October

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Qasim Sheikh
Qasim Sheikh

Around 100 Jewish members of the film and television industry have written a furious open letter to the BBC complaining about racism displayed by one of its newest cricket commentators, the former Scotland and Pakistan player, Qasim Sheikh.

The open letter, sent on Wednesday night to BBC director-general Tim Davie and the Chief Content Officer, Charlotte Moore, sets out a record of Sheikh’s controversial social media posting, including a post on Twitter/X which “likens our Prime Minister, alongside other prominent Western leaders, including Netanyahu, to Hitler, denouncing them collectively as the ‘Kids Killer Union’”.

The signatories say they are a mix of Jewish directors, producers, screenwriters, suppliers and contractors across the television and film industry and include “many BBC employees, and also some members of the TV and film industry who are remaining anonymous”.

The letter says that Qasim Sheikh formed a key part of the Scotland v England T20 Test Match Special cricket commentary team, “despite the fact the BBC knew he has in the past few months on social media posted (and re-posted) rhetoric that is both racist and wholly undermines civility in public discourse”.

Following the Hamas attack on October 7 last year, “another tweet by Mr Sheikh claims that the terrorists were justified in their indiscriminate mass rape and slaughter in order ‘to defend themselves’”.

The BBC provided Jewish News with a statement from Sheikh on Wednesday evening. It reads: “I have been sent the letter and as a result want to reiterate my apology for any offence my past messages caused. I reiterate what happened on October the 7th was morally reprehensible. I have removed the social media posts and want to reiterate that my intention was and is to raise the plight of the death of all innocent civilians. My position is clearly outlined in my statement of yesterday.  I am against all forms of racism and discrimination and I believe in the need for peace in Gaza.”

In 2021, when another former cricketer, Michael Vaughan, was accused of racist comments made in 2009 — which he categorically denied — he was immediately dropped from the BBC commentary team. The letter writers point to what they call “a monumental double-standard”, as “a mere accusation was enough for him to be suspended from all cricket commentary with the BBC statement: ‘While he is involved in a significant story in cricket, for editorial reasons we do not believe that it would be appropriate for Michael Vaughan to have a role in our Ashes team or wider coverage of the sport at the moment..’

At the same time the BBC dropped a radio show which Vaughan co-presented with Phil Tufnell, and, say the signatories of the letter, “Vaughan was axed from the BBC’s sporting commentary for the best part of two years until the ECB’s Cricket Disciplinary Committee cleared his name”.

But the same actions have not been applied to Qasim Sheikh. The writers ask: “What of the Jewish members of staff deeply affected by the indisputable rise in anti-Jewish racism since October 7? …Yet again, the BBC appears entirely deaf to news of its contributors’ racism against Jews. Invoking images of Hitler (specifically) to portray Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, and its allies is Holocaust inversion and antisemitic by every definition. Qasim Sheikh’s justification and legitimisation of the mass murder of (principally) Jews in Israel is ostensibly not a sufficiently “significant story in cricket” to merit any repercussions”.

The angry writers, who say they view the situation in disbelief, ask Davie and Moore to “please explain to us why Qasim Sheikh was in the box today? If your answer is that the BBC’s social media guidelines do permit his posts, they are clearly unfit for purpose. If it is that his tweets predate his hiring, why did you hire him?”

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