Thursday, 18 February 2010

Moir 'illogical' and 'distasteful' but not in breach of Code, rules PCC

To the surprise of absolutely no-one, the Press Complaints Commission have rejected complaints about Jan Moir's homophobic article about the death of Stephen Gately.

Some have seen a conspiracy in the fact that Mail Editor Paul Dacre chairs the Code of Practice Committee, while Mail on Sunday Editor Peter Wright sits on the decision-making Commission.

But there is no conspiracy: the PCC are always this useless and ineffectual.

Essentially, the PCC have said that to rule against Moir and the Mail would have meant they were acting against freedom of speech and:

This would be a slide towards censorship, which the Commission could not endorse.

This is a bit of a red herring. To censure a journalist for writing lies is not censorship. It's what effective regulation should do.

They also repeat that as this was a columnist's opinion piece, there is more leeway on what can be said. Indeed, it seems at times that the PCC believes a columnist can say just about anything and, as it is an opinion piece, it's beyond criticism.

That doesn't fully apply in this case. After all, one of Moir's main themes was that this death was not 'natural'. This is not about interpretation of facts. This is whether something is correct or it isn't. And when Moir wrote:

healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again

she was factually wrong. The PCC claim this:

could not be established as accurate or otherwise.

Yet the postmortem said it was natural and the Mail itself has published the results of the official investigation saying the death was from 'natural causes'.

So how can the PCC state this 'could not be established as accurate or otherwise'?

They go on to say:

It admittedly did not take into account the possibility of SADS or similar, but the Commission did not consider that it could be read to be an authoritative and exhaustive statement of medical fact.

True, most people wouldn't rely on Moir's opinion for anything, least of all medical expertise. But this just looks like the PCC finding weasel-words to avoid upholding the complaint.

(See also the time they ruled that when Melanie Phillips said 'the fact is...' what followed shouldn't have been understood to be a fact, because the article was an opinion piece.)

So although the PCC say Moir's piece was:

a compendium of speculations

it did not violate Clause 1 of the Code which says:

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information


It's worth looking at some of the other issues raised by the PCC's lengthy adjudication.

Clause 5 of the Code covers intrusion into grief and says publication of articles should be 'handled sensitively'. Moir's vicious article was published the day before Gately's funeral. Her follow-up column apologised for this (and only for this):

I would like to say sorry if I have caused distress by the insensitive timing of the column, published so close to the funeral.

Yet the PCC chooses not to rule against Moir on this point, even though she admitted it was 'insensitive' and the Code says handling must be 'sensitive'. It is decisions such as that that make people scratch their heads about how the PCC works.

But, interestingly, the PCC do include some criticism, if rather veiled, of Paul Dacre:

The timing of the piece was questionable to say the least, and the Commission considered that the newspaper's editorial judgement in this regard could be subject to legitimate criticism.

Not that the PCC is going to rule against the Mail because of that, it's just going to point out criticism of them for the timing is 'legitimate'.

No wonder Editors do not want the PCC to change.

Paul Dacre is Chair of the Code of Practice Committee. His is the most complained about newspaper, he's responsible for the most complained about single article and has now been criticised for his 'editorial judgement'. And yet he is still considered suitable to make the rules that journalists have to abide by. That simply isn't acceptable.

In its defence, the Mail said:

The record number of complaints was an internet phenomenon 'whipped up in a few hours on the social networks of Facebook and Twitter' and had to be kept in perspective.

This from the paper that 'whipped up' the entire Sachsgate furore. And the difference is stark: at least in the Moir case, people could - and did - read the article. Only a few of the complainants about the Sachsgate broadcast actually heard the show.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

When discussing Clause 12, which covers discrimination, the PCC say:

The question of whether the article was homophobic or discriminatory to gay people in general did not fall under the remit of the Code.

This seems very surprising, and presumably applies to all articles, not just this one.

But this appears to be a problem not with the Code (the discrimination clause is actually very good) but the narrow interpretation of it by the PCC. Do they really think judging whether an article is homophobic is not within their remit?

They go on to say:

The columnist had not used pejorative synonyms for the word 'homosexual' at any point.

This clearly isn't good enough. Just because a newspaper or columnist doesn't use some crass slang insult doesn't mean it's not being homophobic or discriminatory. Adopting arguments such as this one make the PCC look as if they are doing everything possible to avoid ruling against the papers.

The PCC add:

it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article.

Really? So when she said Gately:

could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk

that was nothing to do with his sexuality? (She said a few days later he was 'talented'). And nor was:

the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle.

Nor this:

Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true.

That was when she was talking about civil partnerships where she claimed Gately's death struck

another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

This followed on from her mention of the entirely unrelated case of Kevin McGee. The Mail in their defence said this was:

relevant comment

The PCC ruled the linking of these was:


They are right about that. But what really annoyed people was the suggestion that this said something about civil partnerships. She later denied this, but it was too late. And the PCC say her view on this, although 'illogical' was not inaccurate or misleading.

But in what way was she right in what she said about civil partnerships?

Moreover, she never said that the antics of Tiger Woods or John Terry (and she wrote about both) struck a blow for the myth of happy-ever-after heterosexual partnerships. Why not?

In sum, the PCC said it was 'uncomfortable' with Moir's 'distasteful' 'compendium of speculations', it was at times 'illogical' and the timing was 'questionable'.

Yet they say it was neither inaccurate (it was), intrusive into grief (it was) or discriminatory (it was).

And so, apart from that exceptionally mild criticism, they aren't going to do a thing about it.


  1. How many more examples are there going to be for the replacement of the PCC?

    This weak, trivial organisation cannot be expected to self-regulate this industry.

    But alas, how many times have we said that before?

  2. well said macguffin. it is mindblowing how inept this ruling is. quite what moir would have needed to say to have been seen as homophobic by the PCC...

    if nothing else they should have condemned her on the grounds of intruding into grief. their defence of this is despicable.

    and this whole idea of the co-ordinated attack from twitter is so ludricous. people rightly spoke of their anger at the article. it wasn't a concerted, co-ordinated campaign. as you say, the mail are the master at that one!

    what about our free speech hmm? our right to complain about a nasty, hateful piece of writing.

  3. Wonder if the PCC would have reached a different ruling had the target of the article's abuse been a nice middle class Christian?

  4. Even if it WAS a co-ordinated attack from Twitter, so fucking what? If people weren't deeply offended by it then they wouldn't have taken the time to fill in the form on the PCC's website. Using promptness as an excuse for dismissing a tidal wave of anger is utter rubbish. The PCC really is lip service and nothing else.

  5. Good article. I just don't understand how the PCC could rule on this when there is a clear and evident conflict of interest with the Mail staff being on the various boards. There is a total reform of the PCC needed in order to make it truly independent, as the claim that it is is very untrue as things stand.

  6. Steve: trick question! The Mail would never have attacked the character of a middle-class Christian.

  7. PM on R4 will apparently have a debate between "a blogger and a columnist" about this this afternoon (18th Feb) at some point (between 17:00 & 18:00). Might be worth checking out - if you miss it it should be on Listen Again.

    No names mentioned in the programme intro.

  8. Oh,...forget it. It's Peter Hitchens and Iain Dale so not worth bothering with.

  9. "The article had appeared on page 37 of the newspaper, six days after the death. In contrast, a number of other newspapers had covered the case in lurid detail with much greater prominence."

    So, it would be okay for me to go and rob a bank tomorrow, because other people are probably doing the same thing at the same time, and they might even kill someone in the process?! Since when is "But they did it too" a valid excuse?

  10. I cant see how Moirs article did NOT break clause 5 of the PCC codes (sensitivity and grief). She published the article the day before he was laid to rest, an act she herself described as insensitive IN PRINT, after the outcry. That's a smoking gun if ever I heard one. Oh I can see how that happened. I just found out who is chairman of the codes of practice.

    I honestly think the Tweenies would do a better job of monitoring the press.

    See my general take on it at

  11. Ugh, this still makes me so angry! Particularly the way Moir took two unrelated, and very different, sad events, of which the only thing they had in common was the existence of a civil partnership, and used that to "prove" something negative about civil partnerships in general. If Stephen Gately had been heterosexual and married, would she have described his lifestyle as "different and dangerous", and suggested that his death disproved the happy-ever-after myth of heterosexual marriage? Of course not. I know this point has been made many times before and is hardly original, but really, how can this possibly NOT be seen as homophobic?

  12. Given that the Daily Mail is such a passionate defender of free speech I wonder why no one has been allowed to post a comment on Jan's latest piece of journalist bollocks, where she profess's to be an expert on Chinese medicine because her flat mate used to use it.

  13. The PCC are as much use as a carpet fitter's ladder.

  14. In my opinion the PCC should be completely independent of the press, but should only deal with factually incorrect claims (corrections would be published by the commission and the newspaper by way of a retraction of equal prominenece to the original claim).

    Regulation of opinion however is dangerous territory, and I'm fairly happy with the outcome here. The outrageous homophobia has been well exposed. All that a ruling by the PCC would have achieved would be to give the homophobes a righteous feeling of martyrdom, and people who disliked the article would not have benefited from it as they already disliked it. And I don't think in a freee country columnists can realistically be stopped from expressing an opinion. The best response is what happened here away from the PCC: public protest, debate, ridicule of Jan Moir, and fewer people buying the Mail in future.


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