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26 February 1998 Edition

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Belfast Telegraph pulls racist `jokes'

By Chris Ward

Responding to demands from Irish activists on the Internet, the Belfast Telegraph has dropped an offensive St Patrick's Day page on the World Wide Web that included racist and sexist jokes aimed at the Irish and women in general. The offensive material appeared on a link to the Belfast Telegraph's home and news pages.

Activists from Norway, Ireland and the US contacted the newspaper on Thursday, 19 February, urging it to drop the page. The site was amended within 24 hours.

Advertised as part of the ``Paddy's Day'' celebration, the Telegraph, which bills itself as ``The National Newspaper of Northern Ireland'' included several inane jokes aimed at the Irish and featured a caricature of a stumbling man walking down a lane with a bottle in his hand. Among the jokes was one that appeared to make light of rape. The joke described an Irishman being brought to a police line-up and being confronted by a rape survivor. When the man sees her, he cries out, ``that's her, I'd recognise her anywhere.'' Another joke asked, ``how do you sink an Irish submarine?'' The accompanying reply was, ``knock on the hatch.''

Gerry Coleman, director of the Political Education Department of the Northern Aid Committee in New York, called the publication of the material ``outrageous'', adding that he was surprised at the insensitivity exhibited by the Telegraph editors. ``English bigots have been depicting the Irish in offensive ways for hundreds of years. What's so outrageous here is that the Telegraph would publish such material at a time when the Irish peace negoiations are going through turmoil. I am truly surprised at the insensitivity. Its editors are clearly out of touch with a good portion of the community in the North, including both nationalists and women,'' said Coleman.

As the Telegraph's own site explains, the paper must both give and seek approval to have another organisation's page linked to its own.

The Telegraph responded to one activist in Norway, telling him that the paper did not intend to offend anyone with their efforts to mark St Patrick's Day. The paper apologised and said it would remove the offensive material. Nick Garbutt, the Telegraph's director of business development, offered ``our sincere apologise if this has caused you offence.This was certainly not our intention... Irish jokes are often told and enjoyed in Ireland. Ours is a site with an almost exclusively Irish readership, your suggestion of racism is wholly misplaced.''
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