Yesterday’s Daily Mail included an article from Jan Moir entitled “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death”. The inverted commas are not my doing; they were in the article.
Included in the piece was the quite bizarre and rather offensive observation;
Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one”
Moir then continued to pour scorn and homophobic derision on the late Gately on the eve of his funeral. Clearly this article was the result of a tight deadline and undiluted ignorant prejudice. Her article questioned how a 33-year old man could possibly die of “natural causes”, suggesting that the death was “sleazy”.
Like so many people – the latest figure is around 1,000 – I contacted the Press Complaints Commission to lodge my concern at the article’s content. That Moir shows signs of homophobia was not my primary concern; the PCC “Code of Conduct” was breached (particularly Clauses 5 i), 12, i) and ii), and 3 i)) and like so many people I felt it necessary to draw the PCC’s attention to these breaches.
What occurred, and has been picked up by various bloggers and magazines in the 24-hour period since, is the clearest sign of the toothless-tiger that is the Press Complaints Commission.
The PCC sent an email to anyone who forwarded their complaints that, in most cases, “third parties” cannot complain about specific articles concerning individual people. Pink News magazine says;
However, the body’s remit does not include offensiveness and it is likely that action can be taken only if Gately’s family complain.
If anything comes from this complaint it may not even be published; the PCC is not required to publish its findings.
I am no Boyzone fan, and the only time I have ever listened to Gately’s “New Beginnings” single is when an orchestrated version was used at a Liberal Democrat Conference in Southport. My problem with the article, and the problems felt by so many, is how the article was merely an unchecked and unbalanced prejudiced rant. There was no concept or requirement to stick within the rules of the PCC Code of Conduct. Stephen Fry said, via his Twitter feed, “I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathsome and inhumane.”
If the PCC cannot push the Daily Mail into publishing an apology or fining Ms Moir, then its Code of Conduct is meaningless. The voluntary scheme it operates has no function in an age where social media and blogging sites can whip up far more support far quicker for situations like this. Press freedom is absolutely paramount in any developed Western democracy, and is not under threat from a tribe of Tweeting liberals. However the Daily Mail and Jan Moir got their freedom of speech completely upside-down yesterday, while probably knowing nevertheless that the PCC could do nothing to stop them from keeping the article on-line.
Homophobic attitudes are not “in the past”. Like so many prejudices they cannot be completely wiped off the face of the planet for prejudice and value judgements are part of human nature. On the football terraces and in the clubs and at the water-coolers people will make statements that could attract the fabled ‘politically correct brigade’ and as a proud democrat I do not want to wander around the country slapping injunctions on anyone who thinks that a situation is “a bit gay” on the grounds of gender-hate. Jan Moir is an extreme example, however, a woman whose article did more than just question the details of Gately’s death. In implying that somehow being gay was the cause – with more than a hint of Chris Morris’ ‘good AIDS/bad AIDS’ – she was allowed a national platform to print an article of innuendo and offense at the worst possible time.
There is a thick line of decency under which is prejudice, over which is freedom of speech. The PCC are lying on the line unable to comment on anything which falls beneath it. To tighten up the rules governing press content in the spirit of OFCOM and ASA rules is surely a pressing priority to maintain the right to live however one chooses in this day and age. The Daily Mail should publish an apology for Moir’s article immediately.