DUP MP stands by comments amid race row over Songs Of Praise casting

Rebecca Black and Michael McHugh, PA

DUP MP Gregory Campbell has stood by his comments over the casting of a gospel music section of Songs Of Praise amid online criticism.

The East Londonderry representative said he had been subjected to the “vilest of abuse” following media coverage of his suggestion the number of black people taking part in a gospel competition on the BBC show was the corporation “at its BLM (Black Lives Matter) worst”.

He has declined to apologise over the comments, emphasising that he is and always has been anti-racist.

Just watched BBC TV Songs of Praise which this week was Gospel Singer of the year semi final. This I'm afraid was BBC at…

Posted by Gregory Campbell on Sunday, January 31, 2021

The five semi-finalists, judges and presenter of the section of the programme Mr Campbell referred to on January 31 were all of a black ethnicity.

He wrote in an online post: “The singers were all very good but can you imagine an all white line up with an all white jury and presented by a white person? No I can’t either.”

Anti-racism and ethnic minority campaigners have called on Mr Campbell to apologise.

Sinn Fein MP John Finucane joined those calls and urged the DUP to take action.

“Gregory Campbell’s refusal to apologise is simply not good enough. The DUP must take decisive action on this. Their failure to do so speaks volumes.” he tweeted.

Addressing the Assembly, Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long described Mr Campbell’s remarks as “not only reprehensible and racist”, but “also quite bizarre”.

“Of course people have the right to freedom of speech, but it doesn’t come free of responsibility and indeed consequences,” she added.

Mr Campbell said the BBC website says it is committed to reflecting the diversity of the UK, but added: “There wasn’t much diversity or inclusion in that edition of Songs Of Praise, that’s what I was getting at.”

He told the BBC: “There wasn’t a single critical comment for five-and-a-half days after I put that up on my public page on Facebook, not a single critical comment until Saturday, then on Saturday there was this contrived controversy which has escalated over the weekend into the vilest of abuse.”

Mr Campbell declined to apologise for the remark, saying it was a reasonable thing to say.

“Why would I apologise for something that is correct and accurate? No, I don’t apologise. I’m an anti-racist – do I apologise for that? No. I stand with a black footballer who refuses to take the knee – would I apologise for that? No I don’t,” he said.

“I am a committed anti-racist and I am happy to explain that to the forum or anyone else and I have always been.

“I don’t need a contrived controversy to turn me into an anti-racist, I have always been so. Of all the things I have been criticised and lambasted for down through the years, it has never been on the basis of racism because people who know me know I am not, and the post proves that I am not.”

The North West Migrants Forum, covering Mr Campbell’s constituency, said they were “astonishing and shocking” comments.

“He needs to withdraw his ignorant and insulting post and make a full public apology to the black and minority ethnic community of his constituency and beyond.”

It added that Mrs Foster should ensure her MP was held accountable for his words.

Mr Campbell said he is happy to meet with the forum.

Earlier, DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party is “totally, absolutely committed to racial equality”.

Mrs Foster said: “It is not a sentiment that I identify with, as someone who actually does enjoy Songs Of Praise every Sunday and the diversity that is exhibited thereupon.”

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