Over the last few years, we’ve been lobbying for change in the Editors’ Code of Practice which sets out the rules that newspapers and magazines regulated by The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) have agreed to follow. Our issue has been in relation to the print media’s regular and misleading use of the vague word ‘Asian’ to describe those convicted in grooming gang cases in towns like Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, and Oxford. The perpetrators in such cases have been almost always men of Pakistani Muslim heritage.
We are pleased to say we have succeeded. The latest edition of the Editors’ Codebook (the handbook which accompanies the code) has made a recommendation under the ‘accuracy section’ which reads, ‘Editors may be well advised to approach crimes committed by people identified as members of religious or racial communities with caution – and to be aware that their reporting may, in turn, prompt concern in other communities.’ It goes on, ‘British Sikh and Hindu groups have objected to the use of the word ‘Asian’ to describe those convicted in sexual grooming gang cases. While accurate, it is better to avoid such general descriptions but this may not always be possible,’[i] Although this is a non-binding recommendation – editors will have to pay attention to it when reporting such matters from January 1st, 2021.
Our long running campaign emerged in 2012, when we issued a joint statement the Hindu community to complain about the term, which was reported by the BBC.[ii] The following year we coordinated a petition on the matter following comments from the then MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk. The petition was reported in The Times.[iii] In 2015 we coordinated a letter published in The Times ‘Sexual grooming and the culture of denial’, which not just challenged the vague term ‘Asian’ but also highlighted that both Sikh and Hindu communities have themselves suffered at the hands of grooming gangs. In 2017, our Director Lord Singh came to the defence of Sarah Champion, the MP for Rotherham who was forced to quit the front bench after pointing out that many perpetrators of sex crimes involving street-grooming were of Pakistani origin, his intervention was supported by Hindu and Christian organisations and was reported in The Times.[iv]
In 2018, we filed a complaint with IPSO for an article in the British tabloid the Mirror that used the term ‘Asian’ six times when describing what the paper termed ‘Britain’s ‘worst ever’ child grooming scandal’, in which approximately 1,000 girls were sexually groomed.[v] At the time we wrote, ‘To put it frankly, the word ‘Asian’ gives the false impression gangs of Indian, Thai, Japanese, or Korean men are rampaging across Britain sexually abusing underage white girls on an industrial scale. Is that fair?’ The complaint was not upheld because IPSO said ‘Asian’ was accurate, nonetheless our complaint triggered complaints from the Hindu and Christian Pakistani community. At this point we knew change was urgently needed.
From around 2018 we raised the issue with IPSO and subsequently produced a Journalists’ guide to Sikhism[vi] (hosted by IPSO on their website which highlighted our concerns on the matter in one section). Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon also met the then IPSO Chair Sir Alan Moses, and we subsequently filed a submission (April 2020) to The 2020 Editors’ Code of Practice review in which we specially asked for an acknowledgment of the Sikh and Hindu concerns in editorial guidelines when it comes to the reporting of grooming gangs. We have consistently written about the issue in the media and our efforts with support from our allies have come to fruition.
We’d like to thank the following organisations and individuals for their support over the years. The Hindu Council UK, The Hindu Forum of Britain and in particular Anil Bhanot, Ashish Joshi, Mohan Singh, Trupti Patel and Satish K Sharma. They have all played an important role in making this change happen and have celebrated this success with us. We are grateful for their commitment. Remarkably, in contrast there has been a deafening silence from organisations who purport to represent Sikh interests, who have been distracted with nonsensical ideas like ‘ethnic’ tick boxes, and others who are involved in the interfaith industry, or want to cosy up to civil servants and give the impression they are somehow ‘community leaders’.
Now we have this important recommendation in place which goes as far as asking editors to ‘avoid’ using ‘Asian’, the work is not over. We must now hold journalists, editors, and publications to account when they insist on reporting on grooming gangs as they have previously done so. The good news is we can now point to The Editors’ Codebook in our correspondence which provides a compelling reason to ditch the fudge ‘Asian’.