18/07/2016 17:52 BST | Updated 18/07/2016 20:26 BST

Kelvin MacKenzie's Comments About Fatima Manji In The Sun Called 'Religious Hatred' By Channel 4 News

'Offensive and completely unacceptable'.

Channel 4
Fatima Manji

Kelvin MacKenzie’s comments disparaging a Muslim journalist presenting news of the Nice terror attack on Channel 4 News are “tantamount to inciting religious and even racial hatred”, the programme has said.

The former Sun editor was called “vile” for his comments in his Monday column in the paper, in which he questioned whether seasoned on-screen talent Fatima Manji, a “young lady wearing a hijab”, should have presented news about the attack that left more than 80 people dead.

A Channel 4 News spokeswoman called MacKenzie’s “offensive, completely unacceptable”.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy, one of the programme’s best known faces, also tweeted that MacKenzie’s column was “religious hatred and a disgrace”. 

MacKenzie wrote: “Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?

“Was it done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male- dominated and clearly violent religion?”

It has so far triggered more than 300 complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso).

The Sun
Kelvin MacKenzie's column in Monday's Sun

In a statement, the Channel 4 News spokeswoman said: “The comments published in The Sun today by Mr MacKenzie are offensive, completely unacceptable, and arguably tantamount to inciting religious and even racial hatred.

“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.”

Telegraph sports writer Oliver Brown called Channel 4 News’ statement “strong and important”. Other journalists also condemned MacKenzie.

On Friday after Channel 4 News went out, Manji said her presenting duties that night were “long planned” and she had hoped the news would be “quiet”.

The column caused outrage throughout Monday and the speed at which Ipso received complaints suggested it was on course to becoming the most complained about story in the press watchdog’s history.

MacKenzie’s claim that Manji’s presence in the French city was “massively provocative” and a sign of “editorial stupidity” was slammed as “gutter journalism” by Tory peer Baroness Warsi.

Baroness Warsi wrote an open letter to editor in chief, Tony Gallagher, calling the column “divisive” and saying: “I urge you to exercise your role as an editor with responsibility.”

Earlier in the day, the paper did not comment on the growing anger about MacKenzie’s column.

But at 5.30pm, just 10 minutes before Channel 4 News released its statement condemning the paper, it published a follow up column by Muslim writer Anila Baig, defending Manji.

She wrote: “Let’s give her this much credit, she’s a professional who has been working for the programme for four years, not someone dragged in off the street just because she’s wearing a scarf on her head.

“And to accuse her of being representative of ALL Muslims – including mentally ill ones who commit abhorrent heinous acts – is ridiculous.

“We all know that one person cannot represent an entire religion.”

The National Union of Journalists also condemned MacKenzie for using “the language of racial hatred and bigotry”.

Peter Macdiarmid via Getty Images
Kelvin MacKenzie asked whether it was 'appropriate' for a Muslim journalist to report on the Nice attack

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “To suggest that a journalist is incapable of reporting on a terrorist outrage because of the colour of her skin, her religion or the clothes that she wears 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.

“Journalism in the UK needs more diversity, not less.”

The Board of Deputies, the representative organisation of British Jews, also condemned MacKenzie.

Its vice president Marie Van der Zyl told The Jewish Chronicle: “The article makes the unhelpful and unsupported assumption that a Muslim presenter cannot give adequate balance to a story on Islamist extremism.

“This drives a wedge between Muslims and others, which will alienate British Muslims, when in fact most Muslims are as appalled at extremism as the rest of us and are the most important constituency in the fight against it.”

An Ipso spokeswoman said at 5.25pm that it had received more than 300 complaints about MacKenzie’s column.

She added: “We are still processing and I imagine we’ll get some more in overnight.”

The most-complained about article in Ipso’s history was another Sun column - Katie Hopkins’ infamous one saying she would use gunboats to stop migrants, whom she referred to as “cockroaches”. It was subject to more than 400 complaints.

Ipso declined to investigate it as she had not referred to a specific individual.