Using Prince Harry's words
There has been much controversy prompted by media coverage of the language used by Prince Harry in the video he recorded. Most of the discussion has been about the words he used. But we know it upset some of our audience that we repeated the words in our own coverage. We have also had many comments that we have given the episode too much coverage and that it was a fuss about nothing. This blog examines our editorial thinking and includes, in case you want to avoid being offended, the words in question.
When the News of the World broke the Prince Harry story on Saturday night we had to decide whether to use the words "Paki" and "rag head" in our coverage online and in broadcasting. We took the decision that in order for audiences to understand the story we would need to use the words, but that we should use them sparingly. Presenters were told not to over-use the word and to convey, through their tone of voice, that the words, particularly "Paki", are controversial.
It is clear from debate on BBC message boards, blogs and discussion programmes that there is a wide range of views about the word. The majority of comments from the audience have argued that it was a "nickname" and not racist. However within the audience that contacted the Asian Network, most felt it was an abusive term; but not all Asian listeners felt that the use of the word should be prohibited on air.
Given that the word is clearly offensive to an important part of our audience, why did we use it at all? Firstly, for clarity. Prince Harry used the word so that is why we did, as the most straightforward way of explaining the story to the audience. Not using the word could have confused audiences and possibly made them think other terms were used. The response to the debate itself shows that there is no established consensus about the word, with some people believing it can be "affectionate" and "innocuous ", while others would prefer us to avoid using it. In this context the BBC avoiding the word would, in itself, have represented us taking a position on the use of the word which would have not been impartial. Not using the word might also have meant we needed to require contributors to radio phone-ins to avoid it. This would have been unworkable.
The BBC will always be sensitive to the views of all our audiences. In this instance the best thing we can do it is to be moderate and factual in our use of contested language and to hold the ring for the public debate that follows. And the strong views expressed on all sides probably indicate that, one way or another, it was a story well worth covering.
Peter Horrocks is head of the BBC Newsroom.