Original story published 20 April; updated with statement from Christina Lamb and further reaction on 23 April
Sunday Times editor Emma Tucker has apologised after a front page story about Prince Philip’s funeral claimed the public “secretly enjoyed” gaffes which sometimes had a racial element.
The paper’s chief foreign correspondent Christina Lamb wrote from Windsor that the Duke of Edinburgh was an “often crochety figure, offending people with gaffes about slitty eyes, even if secretly we rather enjoyed them”.
This line only appeared in the print edition of the paper.
The online version states that Philip was known for “offending people with his gaffes, even if we secretly laughed at them”.
During a visit to China in 1986 Prince Philip told a group of British students: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”
A petition set up on Change.org calling for the paper to publish an apology and retraction for “trivialising racism”, with a particular focus on the anti-Asian comment quoted, had gained more than 17,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon – and almost 60,000 in total by Friday morning.
It said: “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.”
The petition added: “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’.”
Sunday Times editor Emma Tucker, who has led the paper since the start of last year, has now apologised and said Lamb “never intended” to make light of the duke’s comments.
“The Sunday Times apologises for the offence caused in a piece about the Duke of Edinburgh, published in our print edition,” Tucker 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.”
Lamb has since posted on her official Facebook page that she was “terribly sorry” but was also horrified by the reaction to her comments, which has included death threats to her and her family.
“I am absolutely horrified at what’s happened,” she wrote. “I’m so sorry. The absolute last thing I would ever want to do is offend people or condone a racist comment – my whole career has been about caring and exposing injustice. I am the last person who would do anything like that.
“I was trying to make a general point about Prince Phillip, that he didn’t care about conventions and many people liked that. I really regret the choice of words. I was not speaking for the British public.”
The East and South-East Asians Network, who organised the petition, have not accepted either apology, calling Tucker’s statement “a non-apology that directly ignores our original asks: a published retraction and apology.”
They added that they want Tucker and Lamb to “reflect on what we have said, and practice the humility required to create substantive change in the media portrayal of racialised bodies and stories”.
[Read more: How the UK media covered Prince Philip’s death]