New People editor apologises ‘unreservedly’ amid uproar over use of R-word
The editor of the New People issued a formal apology on Friday after the use of the word “retarded” in an article caused an uproar in the community.
In a statement issued to the press, Antonio Rocca said: “The editor of the New People unreservedly apologises for the use of a word which is considered to be offensive to people with disabilities.”
“There is no excuse for the failure to spot the offence that the word would create.”
“It will not be used again.”
The word was used in an article to describe Opposition political parties in Gibraltar.
Together Gibraltar raised criticism of its use on Thursday and this was followed by statements from the Gibraltar Disability Society and the Gibraltar Disability Rights Federation.
And while the apology was described as “unreserved,” it came loaded with political messaging.
“The New People also notes how closely its articles are read and scrutinised and is pleased to see that it continues to set the political agenda,” Mr Rocca said.
“Our readers can be assured that we will continue to highlight the uncomfortable issues that our ideological political opponents wish they could avoid.”
“We will also continue to point out their inconsistencies and failures.”
“We shall ensure we do so without employing language that any collective may, rightly, find offensive and which might permit our opponents the luxury of umbrage.”
He said the New People “notes the huge advances made in the past 10 years” since the GSLP/Liberal Party Government took office “in relation to all matters affecting people with disabilities.”
“That progress has arisen after many years of under investment,” he added.
The original news article drew a scathing response from Gibraltar’s disability awareness charities before the apology was issued by the weekly newspaper.
And the apology drew a lukewarm welcome.
The Gibraltar Disability Society said it “cautiously welcomes the ‘unreserved apology’ by the editor of the New People for its use of a word offensive to persons with disabilities and their families.”
“The apology came shortly after the publication of a press release by the Disability Society expressing its outrage and calling for a public apology,” the charity said.
“The New People’s press release goes on to mention the huge advances made over the past ten years in relation to disability issues.”
“The Disability Society would like to point out that it has been fighting on all disability issues and has contributed to the substantial improvements over the past 55 years.”
“Sadly the ‘unreserved apology’ has been watered down by the inclusion of the New People’s political agenda which includes the final remark that it will refrain from using offensive language that will permit their political opponents the luxury of umbrage.”
“Surely an unreserved apology should be just that – an apology to those that have been offended by language that is outdated and insulting.”
The Gibraltar Disability Rights Federation had earlier also called for an apology and said it was “severely disheartened by the offensive language” which has caused offence to people with disabilities and their families.
“While ‘mental retardation’ was originally introduced as a medical term in 1961 for people with intellectual disabilities, in the decades since, the R-word has become an insult used all too commonly in everyday language (specialolympics.org),” the GDRF said in a statement.
“Those using this word should have more regard for the pain that it can cause to persons with disabilities and their families and the fact that the use of words like this continues to push persons with intellectual disabilities to the sidelines.”
“The GDRF is fully aware that Gibraltar is for the most part wholly outdated in its legislation regarding Disabilities and that this might still create the illusion that the use of these terms will still be accepted in our Society, but the GDRF will lobby for the eradication of such language from our community.”
“This is yet another example of why we must as a society progress into the 21st Century when it comes to Disability Rights, and do so quickly, with a closer implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.”
“Dignity and respect are imperative in relation to this statement,” the GDRF added.
“Such a Convention would hopefully eradicate the use of such derogatory and outdated terms, starting with the editors of this particular newspaper, who should have opted for a more dignified and appropriate use of language.”
“The GDRF has reported the matter to the newly formed Special Needs and Disability Coordination and Liaison Office at No.6 Convent Place and will await a reply.”