Radio race row at BBC's flagship Asian station

Angry Sikhs besiege Asian Network over Muslim's 'joke'

The BBC's Asian Network was at the centre of a fresh race row last night after Sikhs accused the digital radio station of being insensitive towards their religion.

BBC bosses were forced to remove a show by the popular Muslim presenter Adil Ray from their website after the morning show DJ received threats from angry Sikh listeners who accused him of denigrating an important religious symbol.

The Birmingham-based network, which was set up eight years ago after the BBC's then director general Greg Dyke described his own organisation as "hideously white", has strongly denied the accusations or any suggestion that Ray meant to mock Sikhism.

But the anger from the Sikh community has nonetheless raised fresh questions over whether the digital network is serving its Asian listeners. Earlier this year, the BBC Trust told the network that it needed to attract more listeners after its audience fell from half a million to 405,000 in a year.

The complaints revolve around a show broadcast on Thursday 6 August in which Ray discussed the cancellation of a Punjabi music concert in Canada where police had banned a number of Sikhs who refused to remove their "kirpan" dagger – one of five ceremonial symbols that baptised Sikhs are expected to wear at all times.

A number of listeners believed that Ray had been disparaging about whether Sikhs really needed to carry their kirpans and began making complaints and threats against him.

This is not the first time the network has found itself facing anger from within the Asian community. The Labour peer Lord Ahmed last year accused the network of being biased against Muslims in favour of Sikhs and Hindus, although an internal investigation by the BBC later exonerated it.

The Sikh Media Monitoring Group has written to the BBC asking for a full transcript of Adil Ray's show and accused the station of being insensitive towards Sikh listeners. "We should not be paying a licence fee for promoting the ignorance-based ramblings of those bent on self-promotion who sneer at Asian religion and culture," said Hardeep Singh, a spokesman for the group.

Indarjit Singh, veteran Sikh journalist and head of the Network of Sikh Organisations, said Britain's Asian communities should move away from stations aimed at a small demographic.

"Stations like BBC Asian Network do little to encourage integration and social cohesion because they allow communities to ghettoise themselves," he said. "Twenty or 30 years ago, when immigrants came to the country and were often surrounded by hostile communities, it was important to have these sorts of networks but, nowadays, I feel there is less need for them."

Supporters of the Asian Network, however, say the radio station provides a vital voice for Britain's Asians in the otherwise white-dominated industries of media and broadcasting.

Sunny Hundal, the Sikh-born editor of Asians in Media magazine, said yesterday: "The Beeb already bends over backwards to these groups who are simply trying to promote their own agenda."

A spokesman for the Asian Network defended its morning presenter. "Adil Ray did not make any judgement about people's faith or the rights and wrongs of wearing the kirpan. We welcome the fact that Adil has listeners of all faiths who enjoy his humour and presentation."

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