Radio 1's 'girl next door' apologises for race gaffe

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When Edith Bowman was given an afternoon show on Radio 1, the station hoped she would provide a counterbalance to controversial "shock-jock" presenters such as Chris Moyles and Sara Cox.

But the plan looked to have backfired spectacularly yesterday after Bowman was forced to issue a formal apology for repeating a racist expression that referred to Japanese people as "nasty Nips".

Discussing newspaper articles about modern slang, Bowman read out an e-mail from a listener saying: "When the weather is a little cold, we say that it's a bit Pearl Harbor, meaning that there's a nasty Nip in the air."

The comments, which were broadcast shortly before 1.30pm, sparked dozens of complaints from the show's 5.5 million listeners, and were swiftly condemned by race-relations groups.

"In the context that the word 'Nip' was used, it's as bad as using the term 'Paki' or 'nigger,' and will clearly offend Japanese people," said a spokesman for the 1990 Trust, a black-led human rights organisation.

"We seem to have a climate at the moment where more and more presenters are referring to material of an offensive nature. It's dangerous for us to get into a situation where this sort of language is legitimised."

Amid growing controversy, Bowman, who had been described as a "typical girl next door" when she was given the coveted 1pm-4pm weekday slot, was ordered to apologise.

A colleague at Radio 1 later described the affair as "an innocent gaffe". The offending e-mail had apparently been part of a collection handed to Bowman by a producer, and was read out in error. "Anyone who knows Edith will tell you that she is certainly not a racist," the colleague said. "Clearly, at first sight, she found the Pearl Harbor joke funny, but given the benefit of hindsight it was obviously not the sort of thing that should have made it on to the airwaves."

Radio 1's PR department moved into rapid rebuttal mode, with its press office issuing a statement saying that it regretted the incident.

"Edith was reading out a number of slang terms sent in by listeners, and read this particular term out in error," read the statement. "No offence was intended, and Edith apologised on air for any that may have been caused."

Bowman, 31, who is said to earn around £175,000 a year, is seen as one of the BBC's rising stars. She previously co-presented Radio 1's lunchtime show with Colin Murray, but was given her own show as part of a shake-up of the schedules in August.

Radio 1 is about to celebrate its 40th birthday. It has been no stranger to controversy in recent years, and recently announced plans to hire a head of editorial standards to police its team of presenters.

Earlier this year, Chris Moyles, the breakfast show host, upset gay rights campaigners by using the term "gay" to mean "rubbish."

His other infamous radio moments include offering to take a teenage Charlotte Church's virginity, and calling women "dirty whores". The latter comment earned him a formal reprimand from industry regulators.

In June this year, Ofcom also criticised Scott Mills, who hosts the station's "drive-time" evening show, for swearing and using inappropriate content.

Another prominent Radio 1 DJ, Sara Cox, sparked outrage in 2000 by saying that the late Queen Mother "smells of wee".