Woman's Hour host Emma Barnett responds to allegations of 'degrading' comments

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett has responded to allegations that she ‘spoke s**t’ about guest Kelechi Okafor to producers off-air.

Actress Okafor was set to appear on the show to speak about the #MeToo movement but pulled out, claiming that Barnett ‘didn’t realise her mic was on’.

Defending her actions, Barnett has responded, writing in a statement on Twitter: ‘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 anti-Semitic remarks.

‘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 anti Semitic comments. Kelechi overheard that chat on our open Zoom link – with 2 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. And I would have happily hosted her on the programme with a question on this issue. 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 the questions that need asking. I am greatly enjoying my first week. Emma Barnett.’

A BBC spokesperson told Metro.co.uk in a statement: ‘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.’

Okafor is reported to have said it was wrong for presenter Reggie to apologise for comments he made about Jewish people in 2017, which led him to step down as a host of Top Of The Pops.

Yates had praised upcoming musicians for being managed by “their brethren” rather than “some random fat Jewish guy from north-west London”.

Following Barnett’s response, Okafor tweeted: ‘The assumption is that you can twist a very violent incident because you assume people don’t generally believe Black women. Glad that somebody else who isn’t mad could confirm what truly transpired. There’s choosing the wrong one, and then there’s choosing me.

‘The misogynoir jumped out with “questioning what qualifies someone to be a leading voice in a space” I haven’t touted myself as a leading voice but I’m interested as to what qualifies *you* to gate-keep in such a way.’

In her original video, Okafor didn’t mention Barnett by name but said on her Instagram Stories: ‘I won’t be going on Woman’s Hour now. The host didn’t realise that her mic was on as she was talking s**t about me to the producers.

‘The same stupid rumour or furore that started a couple of years ago that I’ve addressed since keeps coming back because people just like to be wayward and apparently these people were tweeting at her and [saying] “Why the f**k do we have Kelechi on the show when all of this is going on?”

‘Meanwhile, she’s not on mute, meanwhile I’m hearing the whole thing.’

She added that she then left the conversation.

Okafor also said on Twitter: ‘Hi guys I’m coming off woman’s hour because what I’ve just had to witness is absolutely degrading and vile.

‘You can have a genuine concern about something you’ve been told about me and address it in a manner that is kind. That wasn’t what took place. Myself and the other people who would be talking during the segment could hear me being talked about like a d**khead.

‘When she clocks the mic is on suddenly it’s “well kelechi could you just explain to me because I’m trying to give you a chance to explain…” It was on your producers to have explained and done their research. It was on you to check your mic’.

She continued: ‘The need for me on today’s show was to offer balance to these wayward women thinking that the MeToo movement is no longer needed. The fact is that if you feel it’s no longer needed for your white middle class sensibilities marginalised voices still need it.

‘We haven’t heard from everybody regarding the violations they’ve faced. The originators of the MeToo movement were Black women. From enslaved Black women who were raped by slave owners to Tarana Burke yet their voices are yet to be honoured.’

Barnett has recently taken over on Woman’s Hour from Dame Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey.

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