BBC defends 'racist' Newsnight David Starkey debate

The BBC has defended a Newsnight debate which prompted almost 700 complaints about historian David Starkey’s “offensive” views.

The writer and broadcaster was a guest on the BBC2 news show on Friday to take part in a discussion about last week’s riots.

But the BBC said his comments had prompted complaints from viewers who felt his contribution was “inappropriate and racially offensive”.

Some among the 696 who had registered their complaints by this afternoon felt Dr Starkey’s views were not challenged sufficiently.

Labour leader Ed Miliband also weighed in to brand his comments “outrageous”. He said all political parties should condemn the historian’s “racist” views.

Dr Starkey had taken part in a discussion chaired by presenter Emily Maitlis, alongside author Owen Jones, who wrote Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Classes.

He said: “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.

“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.”

He went on to say that the Tottenham MP David Lammy – whose parents are from Guyana – sounded white. “If you turn the screen off, so you were listening to him on radio, you would think he was white,” Dr Starkey said during the ten-minute discussion.

Lammy has since called Dr Starkey’s views “irrelevant”.

Miliband said it was “absolutely outrageous” that someone in the 21st century should be making such comments.

He added: “There should be condemnation from every politician and from every political party of those sorts of comments.”

Miliband said they were “racist comments, frankly”, adding: “They were racist comments and there’s no place for them in our society.”

Responding to the viewer complaints, the BBC said “Whilst we acknowledge that some people will have found David Starkey’s comments offensive he was robustly challenged by presenter Emily Maitlis and the other contributors who took issue with his comments.

“Owen Jones particularly highlighted that many people listening would find the views expressed offensive and Emily provided further context making it clear that David Cameron had said this was not a race issue and that people taking part in the riots came from a range of ethnic backgrounds.”

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