The BBC has been criticised for broadcasting an offensive radio segment in which pundits discussed ‘curing’ lesbian TV presenter Clare Balding of being gay.

The comments were made at a Saturday recording of BBC 5Live’s ‘Fighting Talk’ show, in a segment called ‘Defend the Indefensible’.

Host Colin Murray set panellists a number of topics to argue for, one of which was: “Give me 20 minutes with her and I’m pretty sure I could turn around Clare Balding”.

The Times reports that the audience groaned as Bob Mills took up the topic by stating that Balding was a “horse woman”, who “appreciates power between her thighs”.

He went on to say: “And we all know, there is no woman that can’t be cured.”

The statement offensively put across as true the rebuked idea that gay people, in this case women, in particular, can or should be “cured” of homosexuality.

‘Gay cure’ therapy had been condemned by the government as harmful, but it is widely promoted in some communities and countries. It emerged in April that three boys had died at a camp in South Africa which claimed to be able to cure them of being gay.

The 5Live segment was recorded in front of an audience of 5,000 at Liverpool Echo Arena and broadcast at 8:30 PM, half an hour before the watershed.

A later segment of the show, broadcast at 11PM, saw contestants argue that Balding should “present the Derby topless”.

Stonewall executive Ben Summerskill called the show “canteen bullying from the 1960s”.

He added: “We have warned the BBC for some time that there were problems in their live sports programmes because they have not formally trained staff in what is simply wrong.

“The BBC should be doing better than this. Given that Clare is employed right across broadcasting and doing loads about the gender gap in sport single handed, we would have thought the BBC would have wanted to keep her happy.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “The comments were made during a round called ‘Defend the Indefensible’ which asks panellists to comment on topics which, by their very nature, are blatantly indefensible.

“However, we would like to apologise unreservedly to anyone who was offended by the live broadcast.”

Balding has herself appeared on Fighting Talk and 5Live in the past.

In 2010 she won a complaint against the Sunday Times after columnist AA Gill called her a “dyke on a bike”.