Channel 4 presenter Matt Frei has apologised after using a racial slur he claims he "simply wasn't aware of" to describe Barack Obama.
The Europe editor said the US president was "smiling like a split watermelon" during a meeting with the Pope, a comment that was widely condemned online. British former NBA player John Amaechi was among those to slam the remark.
I'm sorry, did @Channel4News just say Obama was "smiling like a split watermelon"? WTF. No. Just no. How does that get past editorial?!— John Amaechi OBE (@JohnAmaechi) September 23, 2015
We Britz concur - not happy with that— jezza (@jezza59) September 23, 2015
@mattfrei you absolute moron. Watch what you say you neieve fool.— Ken Ink (@Ken_Chigbo) September 24, 2015
The watermelon is considered a symbol of racism to black people in America. It dates back to a stereotype that the fruit is a favourite of African Americans.
Frei apologised on Twitter for his description of Obama and said that he was unaware the expression had racial connotations - something that wasn't lost on everyone.
I apologise to those upset by my description of President Obama’s smile on tonight’s programme. 1/2— Matt Frei (@mattfrei) September 23, 2015
It was intended as an entirely innocent phrase that apparently has a history I simply wasn’t aware of. Honestly no offence intended. 2/2— Matt Frei (@mattfrei) September 23, 2015
I honestly had no idea what Matt Frei said on C4 News last night could be offensive either.— Mark Scully (@Mark_Scully_ANZ) September 24, 2015
@mattfrei Personally I think it was an entirely apt way to describe the man's smug, smile ...😳— Louise Allain (@louiseallain) September 24, 2015
@mattfrei why are you apologising? It's pure lunacy that anyone could believe that that was racist!— Gary Turgoose (@Turgie83) September 24, 2015
For those wondering why the 'liberal fuss' over watermelon metaphors should check out the blatant racism its inspired on Twitter.— John Amaechi OBE (@JohnAmaechi) September 23, 2015
Amaechi later conceded Frei probably did not mean to cause any offence.
Clearly @mattfrei meant no harm... But let's stick with "grinning like a Cheshire Cat" in future!! ;-)— John Amaechi OBE (@JohnAmaechi) September 23, 2015
Frei isn't the first high profile Brit to apologise after making the off-colour remark.
In 2008 Boris Johnson apologised for referring to black people as "piccaninnies" and using the term "watermelon smiles" in a column published in the Daily Telegraph six years earlier.
The London mayor had mocked Tony Blair's globetrotting, writing: "What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies," he wrote. It also mentioned "watermelon smiles".
Frei's biography on the Channel 4 website, it states: 'Prior to his appointment as Europe Editor for Channel 4 News, Frei was the Washington Correspondent for two years and has reported on the Americas on everything from business and culture to US foreign policy and its view of the world.'
He previously anchored the BBC World News America bulletin and was also Washington Correspondent.