Thank you for contacting the Executive Complaints Unit about a programme on BBC Two in which the comedian, Romesh Ranganathan visited Sierra Leone. One of the sites he visited was Bunce Island, a slave trading post, which, as the programme explained, has been the base of operations for four British companies over 138 years from which it was estimated 30,000 African slaves were trafficked to the West Indies and North America.
You complained that the programme misrepresented history because it failed to reflect local African participation in the trade or to acknowledge the role of Britain in relocating freed slaves following the American Revolutionary war to the colony of Sierra Leone.
In particular you questioned remarks by Mr Ranganathan after his visit to the island to the effect that that slave trading was something “the white British did”. He said:
It would be very easy for me to say, “Well, this is what white British people did, my parents come from Sri Lanka, so this is nothing to do with me”. But the truth of it is, is that my parents wanted a better life for their children. And the reason that they moved over to the UK is because of the economic, the infrastructure, all of these things, the, the standard of living that is built upon benefits that were gleaned from slavery. So I just think a disconnect from that is not OK, I think. You know, you can’t just go, “This is nothing to do with me”. It is part of British history, it’s part of black British history, and it should be acknowledged as such.
I have reviewed the programme and I think it is clear that at this point the presenter was asking himself whether he should engage with the issues raised by slavery and its legacy as someone from a family of recent non-white “colonial” immigrants to Britain. His view was that it could not be dismissed as something “the White British did”. He was not making a definitive historical judgment, and I do not believe viewers would have looked to him, as a tourist, for an historical analysis.
That said, it is unquestionable that the slave trading activities which took place in Bunce Island were a British imperial enterprise. And I do not believe viewers would have been misled on that count. You objected to the fact that the raiders who captured the slaves were not identified as African. They were not described as British and I think, since the role of the British trading companies was shown as involved in buying and transporting the slaves, there was no reason to assume from the programme that the raiders were also British.
I note your view that more should have been said about the history of the transfer of slaves, emancipated after the loss of Britain’s American colonies, to Sierra Leone. Mr Ranganathan visited the historic Cotton Tree, celebrated as the site of the foundation of Freetown, where his guide explained, freed slaves would come to pray. The programme, as the Complaints team explained, took in many other aspects of life in Sierra Leone, past and present, and given the varied and impressionistic nature of the programme, it was perhaps not surprising that more detail was not supplied about the history and legacy of slave trading in the country.
For these reasons I am not upholding your complaint. There is no provision for further appeal against this decision within the BBC but it is open to you to approach the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. You can find details of how to contact Ofcom and the procedures it will apply at https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/how-to-report-a-complaint. Ofcom acknowledges all complaints received, but will not normally write back to individual complainants with the outcome of its considerations.