PCC ruling leaves press in the gutter | Gary Nunn

The press complaints body could have restored gay people's confidence in it. By not acting over Jan Moir, it blew that chance

It's nothing unusual for the Daily Mail to be less than enthusiastic about gay equality. But few would disagree that it plummeted to new depths withJan Moir's now infamous article, published to deliberately coincide with the funeral of Stephen Gately. A "happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships" had been exploded and his death was "more than a little sleazy", she frothed.

But today's decision by the Press Complaints Commission to turn down the complaint – made by Stephen Gately's civil partner Andrew Cowles and an unprecedented 25,000 others – is a sad outcome indeed. Not only is this extremely disappointing, but it also raises increasingly difficult to answer questions about why the PCC is allowed to regulate itself on such matters. Would we allow investment bankers to do away with the auditors and do it themselves? Would we allow mining companies to ignore health and safety regulators and make up their own standards? Of course not. The PCC should be no different.

Nobody is trying to curtail freedom of expression here. But a regulating body needs to have some teeth to keep in check deeply offensive views that border on inciting hatred, or else its existence is entirely futile. The Daily Mail has been freely allowed to exploit the premature and natural death of a popular and rare role model for gay people. This sends out a worrying precedent. The article was deemed so offensive by companies such as BT and Marks and Spencer that they withdrew advertising from the online page Moir's article appeared on. The blogosphere went wild at Moir's outright homophobia – with thousands of people contacting Stonewall via our large Facebook and Twitter followings. Many felt galvanised – asking us what they could do to combat Moir's tasteless nastiness. We forwarded them all to the PCC – assuring them that if enough people complained, the PCC would be sure to listen. In future Stonewall would hesitate to send any lesbian, gay or bisexual person towards the PCC with confidence their complaint would be upheld.

This does nothing at all to increase the little faith lesbian, gay and bisexual people already had in the PCC. Recent YouGov research for Stonewall found that one in six lesbian and gay people expect the PCC to take a complaint of homophobia less seriously than other complaints – a lower level of confidence than the BBC, Channel 4 or Ofcom attracted. The record number of complaints over this issue was an opportunity for the PCC to restore confidence amongst lesbian and gay people who tire of seeing their lives portrayed in negative terms in the media. It's safe to say the opportunity was wasted.

We gave thousands of Stonewall supporters a real voice when they voted Jan Moir as their bigot of the year at the Stonewall awards in November. At the event, in his first public appearance since Stephen's death, Andrew Cowles collected the Stonewall Entertainer of the Year Award on behalf of Boyzone – who made pop history with their video featuring the first ever same-sex couple. He thanked Stonewall for our support – "particularly over the Moir article and for giving us a voice". A shame then, the PCC has judged on the side of giving bigots a voice and ignored tens of thousands who object. By doing so, it licenses homophobia and confines press standards to a particularly murky gutter.


Gary Nunn

The GuardianTramp

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