U.K.'s Channel 4 Slams "Offensive, Completely Unacceptable" Sun Column on Muslim Reporter

Fatima Manji, Channel 4 News - H 2016
Credit: Channel 4

Kelvin MacKenzie's comments about journalist Fatima Manji have drawn more than 300 complaints to the U.K. press regulator.

A column that appeared in Monday's issue of British tabloid The Sun, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, has come under fire for its suggestion that a Channel 4 News journalist should not have been allowed to report on the truck attack in Nice that killed more than 80 people because she is Muslim who wears a hijab.

Kelvin MacKenzie, who used to edit the paper, wrote that he could "hardly believe my eyes" when he saw journalist Fatima Manji onscreen on Friday. "Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?" he asked. 

The column was greeted with an instant response, with the British press regulator having received more than 300 complaints by the end of the day Monday. The Sun deleted a tweet that read "Why did Channel 4 have a presenter in a hijab fronting coverage of Muslim terror in Nice?" but later said this was because it didn't make clear it was MacKenzie's comment and not the opinion of the paper.

Late on Monday, Channel 4 News issued a statement in which it attacked the "offensive, completely unacceptable" comments in the column, which it said were "arguably tantamount to inciting religious and even racial hatred."

It added: "It is wrong to suggest that a qualified journalist should be barred from reporting on a particular story or present on a specific day because of their faith. Fatima Manji is an award-winning journalist. We are proud that she is part of our team and will receive, as ever, our full support in the wake of his comments."

Manji previously worked as a reporter, host and video journalist for the BBC.

The Sun column also came under fire from the U.K.'s National Union of Journalists, whose general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said that to suggest someone was incapable of reporting on a terrorist act because of the color of her or his skin, religion or clothes says "all you need to know about the contemptible views of Kelvin MacKenzie."

"His feigned moral outrage is the language of racial hatred and bigotry, and sadly just the latest incoherent ramblings of a pundit who should have been put out to pasture a long time ago," Stanistreet added. "Journalism in the U.K. needs more diversity, not less."

No stranger to controversy, MacKenzie is perhaps best known for editing The Sun during its coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool soccer supporters were killed, and for an infamous front page story that falsely claimed fans were robbing the dead and urinating on policemen. The episode was later described in a Sun editorial as "the most terrible mistake in our history."