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Racism row TV host quits BBC show

Kilroy-Silk: Said column had been "republished in error."

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Was the BBC right to suspend talkshow host Robert Kilroy-Silk for his remarks criticizing Arabs?
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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Veteran British television presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk has quit as host of a BBC morning chat show after 17 years following a row over anti-Arab comments he made in a newspaper article.

"I believe this is the right moment to leave the programme and concentrate my energies in other directions," said 61-year-old Kilroy-Silk, a former member of parliament.

The BBC had suspended his long-running "Kilroy" topical discussion show after the Sunday Express newspaper published an article by him headlined "We owe the Arabs nothing."

In the article, he asked: "What do (Arabs) think we feel about them? That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors?."

The Muslim Council of Britain, which had condemned Kilroy-Silk over the article, welcomed his departure. "We hope today's landmark decision by the BBC will send out a clear signal that anti-Arab racism is every bit as unacceptable, every bit as odious as any other form of racism," council secretary general Iqbal Sacranie said in a statement.

Britain is home to around 1.8 million Muslims, many of them second and third generation descendants of immigrants from London's former colonies.

Kilroy-Silk had swiftly apologized for any offence the article might have caused, pointing out that it had been re-published in error and had prompted no reaction when it first appeared in April last year.

But he also defended his right to speak his mind, telling one newspaper: "If I am not allowed to say that there are Arab states that are evil, despotic and treat women abominably... which I know to be a fact, then what can I say?"

BBC deny 'gagging'

The BBC on Friday denied they were gagging Kilroy but said his views made him unsuitable as host of a discussion programme.

"I would like to say that this has never been about freedom of speech," said Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television.

"Presenters of this kind of programme have a responsibility to uphold the BBC's impartiality. This does not mean that people who express highly controversial views are not welcome on the BBC but they cannot be presenters of a news, current affairs or topical discussion programme," she added.

The smooth-talking, silver-haired presenter had become a fixture of the BBC's morning schedule during the show's 17-year run, regularly attracting 1.2 million viewers to heated debates of everyday problems and hot issues with a studio audience.

The BBC said Kilroy-Silk's TV production company -- which made the "Kilroy" show -- would produce a replacement discussion show for broadcast "in the next few weeks." The programme would be hosted by a number of guest presenters for the remainder of the present series, the BBC added.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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