Nick Robinson used the phrase hours after soldier Lee Rigby was murdered
He has now apologised after the BBC received dozens of complaints
He said he used the phrase while directly quoting a Whitehall source
By JAMES RUSH
PUBLISHED: 19:49, 23 May 2013 | UPDATED: 20:23, 23 May 2013
BBC political editor Nick Robinson has apologised for directly quoting a source who used the phrase 'of Muslim appearance'
The BBC's political editor has apologised for directly quoting a Whitehall source who described the Woolwich killers as being 'of Muslim appearance'.
Nick Robinson said he was sorry for using the phrase, which 'was both liable to be misinterpreted and to cause offence', during the BBC News at Six broadcast yesterday.
The corporation received dozens of complaints after he used the comment just hours after British soldier Lee Rigby, 25, was brutally murdered in the street.
Robinson today took to his BBC blog to apologise for using the phrase. He explains how he was informed by a senior Whitehall source just minutes before the BBC News at Six yesterday that the incident was being treated as a suspected terrorist incident.
He wrote: 'The police had, I was told, described the attackers as being "of Muslim appearance" and shouting "Allahu Akbar". On air I directly quoted a senior Whiehall source saying that the police had used that description.
'That phrase "of Muslim appearance" clearly offended some who demanded to know what it could possibly mean. Others were concerned that it was a racist generalisation.'
The BBC received a total of 43 complaints after Robinson used the phrase, The Guardian has reported.
Robinson's report was also picked up by other media organisations who reported it as evidence that the incident was a terror attack.
The dead soldier, who was wearing a Help for Heroes top, was hit by a Vauxhall Tigra on the pavement before two crazed men attacked him with knives.
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Witnesses said the suspects 'hacked and chopped' at his body and were shouting 'Allah Akbar!' - an Islamic phrase meaning 'God is great' - and yelling 'this is what God would have wanted.'
One of the men was identified as Michael Adebolajo, 28, who ranted on camera with a clear south London accent saying 'you people will never be safe'.
The suspected killers were later shot by police and will be questioned by anti-terror officers once they have recovered.
Robinson took to his BBC blog today to apologise for using the phrase
One of the alleged attackers (left) rants at the camera while holding bloodied weapons. A second suspected killer (right) speaks to Ingrid Loyau-Kennett who jumped off her bus when she saw the dead man
Robinson wrote on his blog: 'The reports of eye witnesses and the video of the attacker demonstrated that the attack had been carried out by those claiming to be retaliating because "Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers".
'Despite this and the fact that I was directly quoting a source I'm sorry for using a phrase that, on reflection, was both liable to be misinterpreted and to cause offence. Many Muslims were quick to condemn the attack and to distance themselves and their religion from the brutal savagery seen on the streets of Woolwich.'
The comment yesterday sparked complaints from users on social networking and micro-blogging sites, including Hannah McGill, a film reviewer and panellist on BBC Four's Review Show, who wrote on Twitter: 'Whatever just happened, @BBCNews, it is entirely not OK for your correspondents to refer to anyone as "of Muslim appearance".'
A picture of victim Drummer Lee Rigby, of the British Army's 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, is displayed with flowers left by mourners outside an army barracks near the scene of his killing in Woolwich
A Help for Heroes t-shirt was left among the floral tributes in recognition of the top the soldier was wearing at the time of his death
'I'm sorry for using a phrase that, on reflection, was both liable to be misinterpreted and to cause offence': Nick Robinson's apology in full...
It was a barbaric attack carried out in broad daylight on the streets of London. A man hacked to death. The attackers had been shot by the police. An extraordinary and horrific story but not one, you might think, for the Political Editor of the BBC.
However, the fact that the victim was wearing a 'Help for Heroes' T-shirt and was walking near an army barracks raised the possibility that it was something else as well - an act of terrorism with implications for the country as a whole. That was my instinct as soon as I heard about the story, but instinct is not enough. I started to try to establish whether the government was treating it that way.
With minutes to go before the BBC News at Six I was told by a senior Whitehall source that the incident was being treated as a suspected terrorist incident and being taken very seriously indeed. This information changed the news from a crime story to something of more significance. The police had, I was told, described the attackers as being 'of Muslim appearance' and shouting 'Allahu Akbar'. On air I directly quoted a senior Whitehall source saying that the police had used that description.
That phrase 'of Muslim appearance' clearly offended some who demanded to know what it could possibly mean. Others were concerned that it was a racist generalisation.
My report and the quotation were picked up by many other news organisations as evidence that this was a terror attack. The reports of eye witnesses and the video of the attacker demonstrated that the attack had been carried out by those claiming to be retaliating because 'Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers'.
Despite this and the fact that I was directly quoting a source I'm sorry for using a phrase that, on reflection, was both liable to be misinterpreted and to cause offence. Many Muslims were quick to condemn the attack and to distance themselves and their religion from the brutal savagery seen on the streets of Woolwich.
The overnight protests of the English Defence League and attacks on some mosques lead some to fear the consequences for community relations. This all makes people understandably sensitive about anything which could be used to justify hostility to people on the basis of their appearance or religion.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2329777/BBC-political-editor-Nick-Robinsons-extraordinary-apology-backlash-Muslim-appearance-comment-Woolwich-killers.html#ixzz2U9rGs66c
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