A leading publisher of schoolbooks has banned its authors from mentioning pigs, sausages, and anything pork related in their books, lest the words offend Muslims and Jews. The ban was criticised as “utter nonsense” by a Muslim Member of Parliament, but the publishers have defended their decision as their books are sold around the world.
The edict emerged during a discussion on Radio 4’s Today program on free speech, the Daily Mail has reported. Presenter James Naughtie, whose author wife is currently in discussion with Oxford University Press (OUP) regarding an educational series of books, brandished a letter saying: “I’ve got a letter here that was sent out by OUP to an author doing something for young people.
“Among the things prohibited in the text that was commissioned by OUP was the following: Pigs plus sausages, or anything else which could be perceived as pork.
“Now, if a respectable publisher, tied to an academic institution, is saying you’ve got to write a book in which you cannot mention pigs because some people might be offended, it’s just ludicrous. It is just a joke.”
His guest, Labour MP Khalid Mahmood responded “I absolutely agree. That’s absolute utter nonsense. And when people go too far, that brings the whole discussion into disrepute.”
Commenting after the program, the chief executive of campaigning group Index on Censorship, Jodie Ginsberg, said: “It is difficult to imagine any context in which images of everyday objects – like pigs – or the word itself should be banned from being used in a children’s book.”
Conservative MPs were also critical of the stance taken by OUP. Philip Davis, a champion of free speech, said “How on earth can anyone find the word “pig” or “pork” offensive? No word is offensive. It is the context in which it is used that is offensive.’
“On the one hand you have politicians and the great and the good falling over each other to say how much they believe in freedom of speech and on the other hand they are presiding over people being unable to use and write words that are completely inoffensive.”
He urged: “We have got to get a grip on this nonsensical political correctness. The political correctness brigade appear to have taken control of our schools. The Secretary of State needs to get a grip over this and make sure this ridiculous ban is stopped at once.”
He added that perhaps one good thing to have emerged from the Paris attacks was the groundswell of support from the people of Europe for freedom of speech.
The OUP’s guidelines have even been ridiculed by Jewish community leaders. Questioned separately about the letter, a spokesman for the Jewish Leadership Council told the media: “Jewish law prohibits eating pork, not the mention of the word, or the animal from which it derives.”
Yet Oxford University Press is unrepentant. A spokesman for the company said: “Many of the educational materials we publish in the UK are sold in more than 150 countries, and as such they need to consider a range of cultural differences and sensitivities.
“Our editorial guidelines are intended to help ensure that the resources that we produce can be disseminated to the widest possible audience.”
In September of last year, a couple living in Rotherham reported being thrown off a bus after singing the Peppa Pig theme tune to their toddler daughter, after a Muslim fellow passenger complained. Mr Branfield told reporters: “A lady came up to us and quite aggressively started telling us we were irresponsible parents and that we were being racist singing the song. She went up to the bus driver and told him we were being racist towards her and she wasn’t happy. The driver came up to me and said we had to get off the bus or the police would have to come. He said: ‘just get off the bus – it’s not worth the hassle’. I was really shocked because we had done nothing wrong but he didn’t listen to us.
“He just said: “Go now, otherwise you’ll hold up all the passengers and no-one will be happy.” I was more upset at the bus driver not taking in both sides – he just heard the word racism and kicked us off.”