BBC Political Editor Apologizes for 'Muslim Appearance' Remark

Nick Robinson - P 2013

Nick Robinson expresses regrets over his wording in quoting a source who described a person involved in a violent attack on a soldier with a machete in the British capital.


LONDON – The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson has apologized for quoting a source who apparently described the people who attacked a soldier with a machete as being "of Muslim appearance."

The BBC received a host of complaints after the high-profile TV journalist used the phrase during the flagship channel BBC One's 6 p.m. bulletin on Wednesday.

Robinson was reporting a few hours after a savage machete attack that saw a serving soldier killed in London.

The soldier has been identified Thursday as Lee Rigby, part of the Royal regiment of Fusiliers who has served in Afghanistan, Germany and Cyprus according to the Ministry of Defence here.

Two men are under arrest in hospital after police shot them near Woolwich Barracks on Wednesday afternoon, in the aftermath of the attack.

One of the suspects is a man seen in an ITV news cast making political statements while clutching a knife and a machete.

According to the BBC, both suspects were known to security services.

In his apology Thursday, Robinson said he regretted his choice of words, writing on his official BBC blog: "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 generalization."

His report was picked up by media organizations around the world, who described it as evidence of a terrorist attack.

Eyewitness reports later suggested that at least one of attackers -- the man seen in the ITV news footage filmed on a cellphone -- had claimed to be retaliating because "Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers."

Robinson added: "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."

Speaking earlier outside 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister David Cameron said the attacks were "solely and purely" the responsibility of the individuals involved.