I’m sorry, I know I have been using less than delicate headlines lately on my blog, and I had promised myself that I wouldn’t do this again. But that is the only reaction that could properly sum up my feelings to the news that the Press Complaints Commission haven’t seen fit to issue the mildest of rebukes to Jan Moir for her poisonous, homophobic and nasty column on the death of Stephen Gately.
It’s worth going back a little and reading exactly what Jan Moir wrote about Gately. Moir. Aside from completely dismissing the evidence of the coroner’s report that Gately died of natural causes, Moir talked about the "ooze" of "dangerous lifestyles" which “seeped out for all to see”. She followed this up with the following quote;
"Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true."
"Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships."
(h/t Malcolm Coles)
Now seriously, we’re all adults here. The PCC is made up of media professionals. They know precisely about using dog whistles to attack a subject while appearing to be in full concern troll mode. Moir is clearly trying to use Gately’s death (and the previous suicide of Matt Lucas’ partner) to slander all gay relationships as inherently sleazy and tragic. No amount of mealy-mouthed qualifiers can change the toxic homophobia of that column.
What followed was an enormous storm of protest, which extended right across to Europe and America. Moir’s article was passed around blogs, websites and Twitter. Hundreds of thousands of people read that article who would not normally have read the glorified fish and chips wrapping that is the 21st century Daily Mail. Tens of thousands of people, including Gately’s husband complained. This wasn’t a mob out for Moir’s blood – this was a group of engaged citizens who were disgusted at her vile attack on Gately, his family and millions of gay people in loving relationships. There was hardly a single serious media commentator who didn’t think that Moir had crossed a line. That this is par for the course for the Mail and its ilk is no longer an excuse. Moir can bleat on all she likes about freedom of expression, but it cuts both ways. She doesn’t get the right to slime a dead man and skip away free from criticism.
So, 25,000 people complained to the PCC. Their verdict is yet another example showing what a spineless piece of shit the self-regulator has become. Despite the quotes from the article above, the PCC claimed that;
While many complainants considered that there was an underlying tone of negativity towards Mr Gately and the complainant on account of the fact that they were gay, it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article
Seriously, are they fucking kidding me? They read that article and couldn’t discern that Moir’s attacks on civil partnerships were an attack on gay couples? Civil partnerships are this country’s compromise for not offering gay people full marriage equality. Everybody knows they are only open to gay people. This is about the least subtle dog whistle you can imagine. Not to mention her constant stream of thinly veiled swipes about Gately’s homosexuality (“he could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk").
It’s worth noting here that the PCC, as I mentioned above, is a self-regulator. It is made up of the very media figures and owners that people will be complaining about. Paul Dacre, the loathsome editor of the Daily Mail and Moir’s boss is actually head of the PCC’s Editor’s Code of Practice (which just makes me want to cry). Baroness Buscombe defended the ruling by saying that columnists had to be free to print material which may appear to be distasteful or challenging to readers.
That is clearly not what Moir did. Moir decided to ignore the facts of the case as established by the coroner’s report in order to imply that it was Gateley’s lifestyle (ie his gayness) which caused his death. I would argue that it was linking the death of Matt Lucas’ partner which should have been the final nail in her coffin. There was no reason to include him unless she were looking to make a point about gay civil partnerships in general.
I think there is something deeper going on here and it is well articulated by Anton Vowl. I happen to suspect that this complaint may actually have been upheld if it had not been generated by outrage on social networking sites. I think this was the PCC circling the wagons against the type of user-generated storm that can easily erupt now when an article touches a deep nerve within people. Moir’s spitefulness and homophobia, wedded to the death of a much-loved pop star, released at a time when the ability for people to share articles and encourage action is at its highest created a perfect set of circumstances and a real challenge to the PCC. I think they failed spectacularly and have done more to undermine their own organization and the concept of press self-regulation than any other issue in the last couple of years.
Its worth noting just quickly the context of Moir's remarks. At the time, there was a spate of hate crimes directed at gay people around the UK, with one older man being kicked to death by a gang of teenagers in Trafalgar Square. There was a pretty clear continuum between the type of gentle but still pernicious homophoboa that Moir demonstrates and the violent attacks on gay people. But the PCC likes to think that freedom of expression exists in some kind of apolitical bubble. Idiots.