Race board backs Kilroy-Silk over 'Express' Arab rewrite

Single word omission led to outrage over article, claims suspended TV presenter
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The Independent Online

The Robert Kilroy-Silk affair - a cause of outrage among members of the Arab community, and the suspension of his daily BBC talk show - may all have been caused by an editor's omission of one word, it emerged yesterday.

The television presenter's contentious column has appeared in the Sunday Express twice. Last week it ran with the words: "We're told that the Arabs loathe us. Really?" "What do they think we feel about them?" Mr Kilroy-Silk went on to ask. "That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors?" Complaints were made and the article referred to the police by the Commission for Racial Equality.

But when the piece originally ran, last April during the Iraq War, the phrase "Arab countries" was used instead of "Arabs", and no complaints were received. And yesterday the CRE said that they would not have objected to the piece if it still referred to "Arab countries". "That would have been different," a spokeswoman for the CRE said. "Our decision was based on whether we thought it would incite racial hatred. We don't want to censor people criticising countries."

The BBC, which suspended Kilroy, his eponymous programme, earlier last week, refused to comment on the impact the CRE's comments would have on the investigation into the article. The TV presenter himself was unavailable for comment.

Kilroy-Silk has stressed that the changes were not his fault. He said that the substitution of word "Arabs" for the phrase "Arab countries" was done at the Express. "Out of that context," he said, "it has obviously caused great distress and offence and I can only reiterate that I very deeply regret that."

The only other changes made to the article when it appeared last week were purely grammatical. On Friday, the Sunday Express confirmed it had rewritten the article "during the Christmas period".

However, a source at the Express described the mood on Saturday as "upbeat and very determined".

"It's not as dramatic as expected. We're not suicidal, no heads are rolling. The view is very much that this is a man who speaks his mind and that's why he is good on television," he added.

The paper has devoted five pages of news coverage to the Kilroy race row. The source said that Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers, was walking around the newsroom floor on Friday "quite pleased". The insider did admit though that there was "mild embarrassment" over the fact that the sub-editor who passed his copy did not check it properly.

"They (Kilroy-Silk's staff) should not have sent it and we should have checked it. Of course there is mild embarrassment. Mr Kilroy-Silk is a bit pissed off about all the fuss but he's fighting his corner. He's obviously worried about his show being taken off the air but he is going back to work next week to film.

"The copy was passed by the lawyers - but then you can't be sued by the whole Arab nation."

However, last night the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), who made the original complaint to the BBC and Sunday Express, remained adamant that Kilroy-Silk's column was racist. Inayat Bunglawala, the MCB's media secretary said: "The phrase 'Arab countries' itself is unacceptable. Arab countries don't practice suicide bombing, individuals do.

"Post 9/11 there appears to be a creeping Islamaphobia. It is seen as more acceptable than other types of xenophobia. It is important to send a signal that Islamaphobia is no less repugnant and no less odious than other forms of racism, he said.

"We would urge the Crown Prosecution Service to prove itself to be up to the task and fulfil its duties to reassure Muslims and Arabs that incitement against our communities is not acceptable."

But "Kilroygate" took a further peculiar twist yesterday. Stung by criticism from the MCB, Sunday Express editor, Martin Townsend, invited the organisation to write an article rebutting Kilroy-Silk's remarks.

The article was submitted on Friday, but later that night, Mr Bunglawala was asked to make some changes. "They said, 'can we tone down some of the criticisms of Kilroy?'."

The section which the Sunday Express was uncomfortable with included the council's rebuttals of Kilroy-Silk's description of Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors". According to Mr Bunglawala, the newspaper's lawyers did not want to repeat the claims.

"It was bizarre," he said. "They were defending him on one hand and not letting us quote him on the other."

It was not until yesterday lunchtime that the Sunday Express finally agreed to run the article without any changes.

Last night, no one at the newspaper was available for comment.