Kilroy, the '24-carat martyr', urged to make amends

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The Independent Online

Robert Kilroy-Silk was urged yesterday to stop posing as a "24-carat martyr" and acknowledge he was "wrong and offensive" when he described Arabs as suicide bombers, limb-amputators and women repressors.

Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was time the daytime television host learnt about Muslims and donated some of his "vast earnings" to an appropriate charity.

Defending himself yesterday in the Sunday Express, Mr Kilroy-Silk, 61, whose programme was suspended by the BBC last week amid outrage over his anti-Arab article in the same paper, said he was disappointed the corporation did not feel able to support him.

As the row continued yesterday, legal and regulatory experts said Mr Kilroy-Silk's rant could damage the chances of the Sunday Express owner, Richard Desmond, buying The Daily Telegraph.

With a new "public interest test" due to be applied before a media tycoon can buy another paper, the matter could have a "hugely unhelpful" impact, they said.

Mr Phillips insisted: "What I think Robert could do, because let me be clear I don't think he is a racist, but I think that this kind of nonsense - trying to defend the indefensible - is throwing him into disrepute ... What Robert could do is issue a proper apology, not for the fact that people were offended, but for saying this stuff in the first place.

"Secondly he could learn something about Muslims and Arabs - they gave us maths and medicine - and thirdly he could use some of his vast earnings to support a Muslim charity. Then I would say he has been properly contrite."

Mr Phillips said Mr Kilroy-Silk should acknowledge that what he had said was "wrong, incorrect and very offensive".

The former MP told the Sunday Express, which has stood by the piece: "I'm disappointed the BBC didn't feel able to support me. I said to it I understood its need to say the column was nothing to do with it and the views were nothing to do with it, but my impartiality on the programme has never been a problem."

The television host said last week's column had been reprinted by mistake after his secretary sent the wrong e-mail attachment, and that the remarks were taken out of context.

Legal experts warned that the matter could have a far more wide-ranging impact as the Daily and Sunday Express owner prepares to make a £500m bid for The Daily Telegraph.

Starting this month, ministers and regulators will apply a new public interest test to assess the record and intentions of a media tycoon before clearing any deal to buy another newspaper.

The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph may soon be been put up for sale by its owner, the media group Hollinger, which is controlled by Lord Black of Crossharbour, following financial difficulties at the company.

Mr Desmond has hired the City advisers Merrill Lynch to put together a bid. But, even if he wins what is expected to be a fierce competition to secure a deal, the Department of Trade and Industry and media regulator will have to assess whether there are any public interest grounds to block such a deal.

Analysts have already suggested that Mr Desmond will face the toughest challenge of any of the likely bidders.

The tycoon made a fortune in pornography and owns several magazines and adult television channels. It has also been alleged that he interferes with the editorial content of his newspapers - an accusation he strongly denies. But charges of publishing racist material could prove much more damaging.

Under guidelines published this month by Ofcom, the media regulator, the public interest test will examine the level of complaints made against a media owner, journalism standards at the papers already owned by that person and reporting techniques employed. It will also look at "accurate presentation of news" in papers already owned by the person.

Regulatory experts and lawyers said the involvement of organisations such as the Commission for Racial Equality suggested that it and other groups, such as those campaigning for the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers, or anti-pornography activists, may oppose Mr Desmond's plans to increase his newspaper empire - views the Department for Trade and Industry and Ofcom would be bound to consider in their assessment.