The Sunday Times has apologised for a front-page article that claimed the British public “secretly enjoyed” Prince Philip’s racist “gaffes”.
In a story about the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral in Windsor on Saturday, the newspaper’s chief foreign correspondent Christina Lamb described the Queen’s late husband as an “often crotchety figure, offending people with gaffes about slitty eyes, even if secretly we rather enjoyed them”.
The line, which appeared in the third paragraph of the print edition of the paper, seemingly referred to a comment Philip made during a visit to China in 1986, when he told 21-year-old British student Simon Kerby: “If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes.”
It was pulled from the digital editions, which instead said the duke was an “often crotchety figure, offending people with his gaffes, even if we secretly laughed at them”.
An online petition, set up by the ESEA (East and South-East Asian) Network, accused the newspaper of “trivialising racism” and demanded a formal retraction and apology.
The Change.org petition, which had attracted more than 20,000 signatures by Tuesday evening, stated: “Portraying the nation as a collective ‘we’ that ‘secretly’ enjoys racist and derogatory slurs at the expense of ethnic groups is insensitive at best, and encouraging racist violence at worst.
“‘Casual’ racism is still racism, and all racism is unacceptable. The constant framing of these comments as a light-hearted joke must be condemned for what it is – egregious nullification of racism, giving legitimacy to the false belief that using derogatory terms to describe the features of ethnic groups is nothing more than humour and entertainment.
“Intent does not negate the impact, whether in regurgitating or approving the ‘gaffes’.”
In a statement to the Press Gazette, Sunday Times editor Emma Tucker apologised for the offence caused by the piece.
She said: “This so-called ‘gaffe’ made by Prince Philip was a well-known aspect of his life story. The Sunday Times did not intend to condone it.
“It was noted by us on Saturday night that the sentence was offensive and it was not published in digital editions.
“Christina Lamb has spent her whole career reporting on discrimination and injustices against people in every part of the world and never intended to make light of his remark in any way.”
Police forces across England have recorded spikes in hate crime incidents against Chinese people amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which originated in China.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK, multiple incidents of racism against Chinese people have been reported, with victims having been spat at, punched and verbally abused in the street.
Police data indicated a 300 per cent increase in hate crime reports from British Chinese, East and South East Asians in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019.