x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

BBC offers apology and compensation after Muslim body threatens to sue

Panellist on British television programme made inflammatory remarks about attitudes to war.

LONDON // The BBC yesterday offered an apology and compensation to the Muslim Council of Britain after broadcasting claims that the organisation considered it "a good thing" to kill British troops. The organisation had reacted furiously to the claims, made during a Question Time programme two months ago in which a panel of politicians and others in public life respond to current affairs questions posed by a live TV audience.

Controversy flared after the panellists were asked for their reaction to a demonstration by a small group of radical Muslims during a homecoming parade through the town of Luton by the Royal Anglian Regiment, which had recently returned from Iraq. The demonstrators taunted the troops and waved placards bearing such slogans as "Anglian Soldiers: cowards, killers, extremists" and "Anglian Soldiers: Butchers of Basra".

Like the vast majority of Britons, including many Muslims, Charles Moore, one of the panellists and a former editor of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, was clearly angered by the protest when he was asked about it on the programme, which was aired two days after the demonstration. "I've gone to [the Muslim Council of Britain] many times, and said: 'Will you condemn the killing and kidnapping of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?' and they won't," he said.

"Because these wars are in Muslim countries they will not do this. They do one thing that is perfectly understandable - they are opposed to the war. That is perfectly legitimate. "But there is a bigger step they take ? they say it is actually a good thing, even an Islamic thing, to kill or kidnap British soldiers." His comments infuriated the Muslim Council, which sent a formal letter of complaint to the BBC, seeking an apology to be broadcast during a future edition of Question Time. If not, the council said it would take legal action.

Yesterday, the BBC announced that it had offered the council £30,000 (Dh178,000) in compensation and would post an apology on the Question Time website. It has not, however, offered to broadcast the apology on air. A spokesman for the council, which represents more than 400 Muslim organisations in the UK, said the offer was still being considered last night. Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the council, described Mr Moore's remarks as a "big lie".

He added: "These kinds of statements are very damaging. We received many complaints from our Muslim supporters who said they were extremely offended by the comments. "In fact, when a British man called Ken Bigley was kidnapped in Iraq, we sent envoys there to plead for his release. This is accusing us of encouraging terrorism abroad." In a statement, the BBC said: "Question Time always had a lively and wide-ranging debate. On occasion, this results in unfairness to individuals who aren't there to put their view and this is one of those occasions."

Mr Moore, 52, whom Margaret Thatcher chose as her official biographer on condition that the book only be published after her death, was not available for comment at his home in East Sussex yesterday. However, sources suggested that he had been angered by the BBC offer of an apology and had not been consulted about the move. Last Tuesday, Mr Moore, a convert to Roman Catholicism, accompanied Lady Thatcher, who is 83 and suffering from dementia, when she travelled to Rome for an audience with the Pope.

It is not the first time that Mr Moore, who still writes a column for the Daily Telegraph, has infuriated Muslims. In 2004, he wrote an article defending free speech and expressing concerns over a law making it an offence to incite religious hatred. In the process, however, he wrote about the Prophet Mohammed in remarks the Muslim Council said were "breathtakingly provocative". A spokesman for the council at the time called for his sacking, saying the article was a "clear incitement to religious hatred and division", and the Islamic Human Rights Commission called for the Telegraph to be boycotted.

Mr Moore, however, remained unrepentant saying that the strength of the reaction proved that the religious hatred laws would contribute to the suppression of free speech. dsapsted@thenational.ae