BBC: Kilroy-Silk issue not about freedom of speech

Express: campaigned for Kilroy

The BBC has sidestepped an argument over freedom of speech in the wake of its suspension of Robert Kilroy-Silk after he wrote an article attacking Arabs in the Sunday Express.

In a statement this week, the BBC said that increasingly heated debate about the future of the Kilroy programme had nothing to do with freedom of speech.

“It is about how the job of a BBC presenter carries with it responsibilities about what is written and said publicly and how this may impact on their on-air role. The key focus for the BBC is, given the views he has stated, whether Robert Kilroy-Silk can be seen as a suitable presenter of a daily discussion programme dealing with a range of current and controversial issues, with an audience from a wide cross-section of the public.”

The Kilroy programme was pulled from BBC One schedules on 11 January while the corporation launched an investigation into whether Kilroy-Silk could continue.

BBC Breakfast has been extended for an extra half-hour on BBC One to 9.30am while Kilroy is off-air.

On 4 January, Kilroy-Silk wrote an article entitled ‘We Owe Arabs Nothing’, referring to Arabs as “suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors”. The article caused public outrage, prompting the Muslim Council of Britain to complain to the BBC, demanding Kilroy-Silk be sacked. It also passed on details of what it claimed to be further examples of Kilroy-Silk’s anti-Arab sentiment, alleging he had previously made similar remarks in the Daily Express of 16 January, 1995.

The MCB also complained to the Sunday Express, the Press Complaints Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, which in turn complained to the police.

The presenter initially expressed “regret” at the offence caused by the article, but later on, buoyed by campaigns by the Express and Daily Star newspapers for the BBC to reinstate the programme, began to suggest that the BBC was suppressing free speech.

The presenter also appeared on ITV’s Tonight With Trevor McDonald programme to put forward his case, which angered BBC executives.

The row comes less than a month after the BBC tightened up guidelines covering the writing of freelance articles by staff. According to new rules, “no staff, or regular freelance journalist whose main profile or income comes from the BBC, will be able to write newspaper or magazine columns on current affairs or other contentious issues”.

The PCC has received more than a dozen complaints about the KilroySilk article.

Grounds for a complaint could come under section one of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which governs accuracy, and section 13, which covers discrimination.


By Wale Azeez

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