Channel Nine program Today was forced to make an on-air apology this week after viewers complained about anti-gay comments made by Melbourne sporting identity Sam Newman.

The incident happened on Tuesday during a live segment featuring the new deputy mayor of Melbourne, openly gay lawyer Gary Singer, who wants to make the city the gay capital of Australia.

Newman, who stars on Victoria’s version of The Footy Show, said he didn’t want to see mincing, lisping parading people wandering all over the country, and warned of having the whole state infested with people we don’t actually want.

He said Victoria might as well start a new cottage industry called sphincter bleaching and rename the train at Emerald Hill -˜Poofing Billy’.

Channel Nine’s switchboard and email system were reportedly jammed with viewer complaints, prompting Today hosts Tracy Grimshaw and Steve Leibmann to apologise on screen.

We’re still recovering from Sam Newman a little earlier in the program, Grimshaw said. We have received a lot of emails and we recognise your opinion. We did not know where he was going to go in that conversation. We thought he would stir the possum but didn’t know how far he was going to step over the line.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion but there’s a line which he overstepped.

Leibmann added that some of Newman’s comments were appalling. The discussion should have been more logical, more moderate, more rational and, if we offended you, we apologise, he said.

After the program the hosts had heated discussions with production staff that ended with Grimshaw leaving the office in what some believed to be tears, The Age reported.

Singer, who was elected deputy mayor on the weekend, told Sydney Star Observer Newman’s comments were offensive, rude, ignorant and stupid. He was also amazed his own comments about attracting gay tourists to Melbourne had been given so much publicity.

We don’t want Mardi Gras, Sydney does it fabulously, Singer said. Melbourne is about lifestyle. Melbourne is about its cultural life, its sporting events, great restaurants and theatres. Gay people come to Melbourne to do all the things we already do.

David Scamell, co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said Newman’s comments were offensive, outdated and uncalled for.

It’s good to see the show’s hosts said his views were out of line and outrageous. But having said that, it’s quite worrying people like Sam Newman are still being given a voice through the media, Scamell said.

A Channel Nine publicist told the Star Newman did not wish to make any further comment on the matter.

The incident came a fortnight after radio broadcaster John Laws apologised to Sydney’s queer community for making anti-gay comments on his 2UE program.

In November last year Newman caused an uproar after his homophobic tirade aimed at TV star Molly Meldrum during the Channel Nine special Molly Meldrum: Toasted And Roasted.

His speech was full of derogatory comments about Meldrum’s sexuality and there were boos from the audience when Newman told a joke about the difference between a hobo and a homo.

Meldrum, when asked to describe the evening, said: Two words -“ gay bashing.

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