The director of the old Press Council once told Press Gazette that the biggest reaction to an adjudication by the watchdog concerned the use of the word “Jap” in a headline.
The council had rejected the complaint and a deluge of adverse publicity followed.
The press does not appear to have taken on board how sensitive a subject this is. Acting Press Complaints Commission chairman Professor Robert Pinker raised just such a cause in a speech to the Reuters Foundation Programme last week.
Recalling a time in the Eighties when some sections of the press deployed “outrageous sexist, racist and homophobic language”, he argued that the Editors’ Code has been responsible for a transformation over the past decade.
Not since 1997 had the commission had to uphold a complaint about pejorative language used about an individual, he said.
But, in particular, he deprecated the use of the word “Jap” to describe the Japanese.
Explaining that many people did not appreciate the strong connotations associated with the word – and that it was “unacceptably painful and pejorative to modern Japanese people” – he said: “I do hope that over time we can move finally to consign it to the bin.”
Pinker also set out to correct a few misconceptions about the PCC:
The commission is powerless to deal with reports – no matter how critical – of groups of people. In fact, a number of objections to such articles – in particular, coverage of asylum and immigration issues – had been resolved under clauses of the code, notably accuracy.
A rise in discrimination complaints means that the press is getting worse. Pinker claimed: “The truth is that while the number of complaints has been increasing, the number of articles complained about has not. If anything, that has declined.”
By Jean Morgan