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Clement vs. The Sunday Times

I didn't expect in a million years that 'Clement vs. The Sunday Times' would ever be a thing but here we are. The damage such inaccuracies cause cannot be underestimated and the largest-selling national newspaper still remains content to state that it is 'house style' to capitalise ethnonyms sparingly.

This week's result still remains a win for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller media representation. My complaint was lodged under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code, which relates to inclusion of inaccurate crime figures. 17 crimes (actual) were wrongly reported as 117. I also complained under Clause 12 (Discrimination) which relates to the pejorative combination of the terms 'gypsy' and 'lawless' in the article.  As with other ethnicities [American, Iranian, Spanish etc.] Gypsy or Traveller is a legally recognised ethnicity here in the UK.

Ethnonyms should not be used without a capital letter. To withhold this capitalisation brings its very legitimacy into question. Think about where we use capitals letters: to acknowledge the proper names of people or places. Capitals signal to the reader the authority of their existence.

Why did I make this complaint? My PhD 'Moveable Type' explores, in part, the historical grounding of problematic language usages in Government whitepapers and journalism, as part of a larger argument establishing similar issues in literature and art. The research established that these seemingly 'minor issues' extend far beyond what are known as fat finger errors in typesetting and instead reveal a broader ideological problem: the xenophobic discrimination against Gypsy and Traveller peoples.

To refuse to acknowledge that a legal ethnicity exists is an ethical matter of both inaccuracy and discrimination. I would expect any person wishing to call themselves a writer - let alone a journalist - to act with parity and consistency. I am, therefore, pleased to see the inaccurate crime figures were addressed in The Sunday Times on October 13, 2019.

It is telling how the scale of the correction is often minimal in comparison to the original article. The damage is done.

Print Sunday Times
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It was also disappointing during the IPSO complaints procedure to read a response on the matter by Executive Editor Bob Tyrer. He stated that The Sunday Times elects to spell the ethnonyms Gypsy and Traveller without a capital letter because 'it is our practice to use capital initials sparingly'. This is a highly unusual way to approach the legally expected acknowledgement of an ethnicity. In the days of letterpress perhaps there was an excusable shortage of capital letters but with digital print, there are no such restraints.

Look to Sunday Times articles today and you'll see a consistent use of capitals for other ethnonyms and proper nouns. So why are Gypsies and Travellers being treated differently? This points to a wider problem of systemic racism in the publishing and creative industries. It means that personal editorial choices are being made about what constitutes an ethnonym and to have the Executive Editor state this outright suggests that this is a top-down approach.

The refusal to capitalise Gypsy and Traveller on this basis is worryingly expounded as a working practice and there's a sneering quality to Tyrer's suggestion that capital letters should be used sparingly: to be thrifty with them, using only small amounts and without waste. Is it lavish to acknowledge a race?To take a second to press shift and G or shift and T?

If certain ethnonyms are afforded proper capitalisation and others are not, we must ask when this discriminatory practice will change and how such changes might contribute to contesting the normalisation of racism against GRT peoples.



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