The DUP MP Gregory Campbell has refused to apologise for comments made in a controversial Facebook post in which he described the number of black people on an episode of the television programme Songs of Praise as the "BBC at its BLM [Black Lives Matter] worst".
Anti-racism campaigners and politicians in the North have called on Mr Campbell to apologise for the remarks, which the North West Migrants Forum described as “race-baiting” and “deeply irresponsible”. Sinn Féin has said it will report his comments to the House of Commons standards commissioner.
Mr Campbell, who is the MP for East Derry, told the BBC’s Evening Extra programme on Monday that the outcry over the remarks was a “contrived controversy” which had resulted in “the vilest of abuse” towards him.
He defended his remarks, saying that “if I have caused offence by stating the obvious, by stating something that is irrefutable, that the BBC are committed to reflecting the diversity of the UK and they didn’t on that occasion, and no one can say that they did, why would I apologise for something that is correct and accurate?”
“No, I don’t apologise. I’m anti-racist, do I apologise for that? No. I stand with a black footballer who refuses to take the knee,” Mr Campbell said, adding that he was “a committed anti-racist” and he did not need a “contrived controversy to turn me into an anti-racist, I have always been so”.
‘Denial of racism’
Lilian Seenoi-Barr of the North West Migrants Forum said Mr Campbell’s latest comments were “a classic example of denial of racism . . . he is not challenging racism, he is defending it”, and if his party “came out and tackled racism as they said they are committed to we would be in a better place right now”.
In the Facebook post, on January 31st, the MP said he had watched an episode of Songs of Praise which featured the semi-final of a gospel singer of the year competition.
“There were five singers, all of them black. There were three judges, all of them black, and one presenter who, incidentally was, yes, black. 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.”
The North West Migrants Forum said on Monday afternoon that it received 2,500 signatures endorsing its statement condemning Mr Campbell's comments and calling for him to apologise and for his party leader, the North's First Minister, Arlene Foster, to hold him accountable.
“It is both astonishing and shocking that Mr Campbell watched this deeply moving edition of Songs of Praise, full of love and praise for God, and saw only skin colour,” the forum said.
“It is deeply worrying that Mr Campbell can confidently display such clear bias, apparently without fear of challenge or accountability. Given his role as an elected representative and public servant, Mr Campbell’s statement cannot go unchallenged,” it said.
In the North’s Assembly on Monday, Ms Foster said the DUP was “absolutely committed to racial equality” and the comments were “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”.
The North's Minister for Justice, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, said in the Assembly that Mr Campbell's remarks were "not only reprehensible and racist, but I think that they were also quite bizarre", and there was a "job of work to do in terms of showing leadership within our own organisation, within our own ranks, in terms of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable".