David Starkey's Newsnight race remarks: hundreds complain to BBC
London, UK: The BBC has received nearly 700 complaints about the historian and broadcaster David Starkey's claim that "whites have become black" during a discussion about last week's riots on Newsnight.
Of those contacting the BBC, 696 were protesting about Starkey's comments, and 21 complained the debate was chaired poorly and he was treated "unfairly".
The media regulator Ofcom also had complaints and an online campaign by an organisation called gopetition.co.uk demanding that the BBC issue a public apology for "unacceptable comments" had attracted more than 3,600 signatures by mid-afternoon.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, described Starkey's comments on race as "disgusting and outrageous".
Speaking at Haverstock school, his former school in Chalk Farm, north London, Miliband said it was "absolutely outrageous that someone in the 21st century could be making that sort of comment". He added: "There should be condemnation from every politician, from every political party, of those sorts of comments."
Starkey's remarks, during a debate about the riots on Friday's Newsnight, provoked immediate controversy, with the BBC business editor Robert Peston tweeting: "David Starkey's nasty ignorance is best ignored, not worthy of comment or debate – though I fear there will be a media feeding frenzy."
CNN presenter Piers Morgan described him on Twitter as "a racist idiot" and said he had committed career suicide.
Most complainants said the BBC was wrong to allow Starkey to express such a view, should not have had him as a guest, or at the very least should have challenged him more robustly.
Starkey was in a heated discussion with Owen Jones, author of Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, when he made his remarks during a discussion hosted by Emily Maitlis that also included the writer Dreda Say Mitchell.
"What has happened is that the substantial section of the chavs that you wrote about have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion," he said.
"Black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together. This language, which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has intruded in England. This is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country."
Starkey then referred to David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, whom he described as "an archetypal successful black man". He said Lammy sounded white. "If you turn the screen off, so you were listening to him on radio, you would think he was white." Lammy called Starkey's remarks "dangerous and divisive".
The BBC said while it acknowledged that some people will have found Starkey's comments offensive, "he was robustly challenged by presenter Emily Maitlis and the other contributors who took issue with his comments".
Jones highlighted the offence Starkey might have given and Maitlis pointed out that David Cameron had already said the riots were not a race issue, it added.
Photo: David Starkey on Newsnight: more than 700 people have complained to the BBC.
Source: Lisa O'Carroll
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 August 2011 16.27 BST