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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 16:12 GMT
BBC hits back over Kilroy claims
Robert Kilroy-Silk's show has been suspended by the BBC
The BBC has hit back at media coverage of the suspension of Robert Kilroy-Silk's talk show, saying the decision was "never about freedom of speech".

It says the programme was pulled while it investigates how comments by him may "impact on his on-air role".

The TV presenter sparked controversy with a newspaper article calling Arabs "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors".

Critics have accused the BBC of gagging Mr Kilroy-Silk.

In view of some newspaper coverage, we would like to make it clear that the BBC defends and supports freedom of speech
BBC
In a statement, the corporation said it must be "seen to be impartial when dealing with topical and controversial issues".

It went on: "In view of some newspaper coverage, we would like to make it clear that the BBC defends and supports freedom of speech. This has never been about 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 corporation said it was considering the implications of Mr Kilroy-Silk's original article and whether he could still be seen as a "suitable presenter" for a programme dealing with a "range of current and controversial issues".

'Gagged'

The comments came after the Daily Express newspaper reported on Tuesday morning that it had received 50,000 calls, letters and emails from readers objecting to the BBC's decision to "gag" Mr Kilroy-Silk.

The paper urged the BBC to "put Kilroy back on the box".

If they understand that...there are Arab regimes that are evil and tyrannical and dictatorial and that is the truth, are we not allowed to say that?
Robert Kilroy Silk

In an interview with ITV's Trevor McDonald, screened on Monday night, Mr Kilroy-Silk challenged the BBC's decision to take his show off the air.

He said he was right to say some Arab regimes amputated people's limbs and repressed women, although critics claimed he had attacked all Arabs.

He said: "If they understand that I was actually telling the truth, that there are Arab regimes that are evil and tyrannical and dictatorial and that is the truth, are we not allowed to say that?"

Mr Kilroy-Silk said he was not referring to Arab people in general.

He said he understood the BBC's problem, as it could believe the remarks had undermined his impartiality.

But he questioned whether they really had done so, since no one had complained to him when another version of the article was published last April.

Meanwhile, it was revealed on Tuesday that 11 MPs have signed a Commons motion deploring Mr Kilroy-Silk's comment as "racist and abhorrent".

The MPs, who include Glenda Jackson and Keith Vaz are also calling on the BBC to "consider Mr Kilroy-Silk's future in the corporation".


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