Jan Moir: more than 22,000 complain to PCC over Stephen Gately piece

PCC may launch investigation after receiving more complaints in a single weekend than it has had in the past five years

The Press Complaints Commission has received a record 22,000 complaints about Jan Moir's article about Stephen Gately since Friday – more complaints in a single weekend than the regulator has received in total in the past five years.

Moir's article, which was published the day before Gately's funeral in Dublin, provoked widespread outrage on the web. The original headline on the Mail Online website, "Why there was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death", was later amended to the print edition headline "A strange, lonely and troubling death". The article has also prompted a complaint to the Metropolitan police.

Moir's article said Gately's death in Mallorca after a night out "strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships".

It is understood that the PCC will be mindful of the attitudes of Gately's family and partner.

"They appear to be individually written complaints," a source said. The PCC has had no formal contact with the Daily Mail over the incident, the source added.

The PCC today stopped short of announcing an immediate investigation to see if its code of practice has been violated but said it would "consider" the 22,000 complaints.

They "represent by far the highest number of complaints ever received about a single article in the history of the commission", the PCC confirmed.

"Any complaint from the affected parties will naturally be given precedence by the commission, in line with its normal procedures," the watchdog said in a statement.

"If, for whatever reason, those individuals do not wish to make a complaint, the PCC will in any case write to the Daily Mail for its response to the more general complaints from the public before considering whether there are any issues under the code to pursue.

"As the PCC will not be in a position to engage in direct correspondence with every complainant, it is issuing this statement to make clear what action it will be taking. It will make a further public statement when it has considered the matter."

The PCC rarely investigates complaints not made by people directly involved in articles, unless they are complaints about accuracy. The regulator did last year investigate third-party complaints about press coverage of Alfie Patten after the Sun falsely reported that Patten had fathered a child aged 13, although it eventually dropped its inquiries.

In this case the PCC could launch an investigation to see if Moir's article violated parts of its code that deals with intrusion into grief, accuracy, discrimination and homophobia.

Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail editor, is chairman of the PCC code committee, which oversees the commission's code of practice that all journalists and newspapers are expected to abide by.

Moir also called for "the truth" to emerge "about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death" and said: "Once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see".

Today the Daily Mail ran a small article on page 4 about the controversy, saying it had dominated internet debate.

"Columnist Jan Moir's comments on the singer's shocking death sparked an extraordinary online response using sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Thousands have been moved to comment on Moir's column after she wrote in last Friday's paper about the circumstances surrounding the star's death in Majorca, when he and his civil partner invited a Bulgarian man to their flat," the Daily Mail article said.

Today the Daily Mail ran an comment piece by Janet Street-Porter, who said that she was "astonished to read" Moir's column.

"Fact - Stephen Gately died from natural causes, not from guilt," wrote Street-Porter, who knew Gately, describing him as "almost too innocent for his own good".

"If Stephen and his partner went to a nightclub and returned to their flat with another man, is it really any of our business?" Street-Porter wrote.

Street-Porter said that she was more concerned about the rise of assaults on gay men than what went on behind closed doors.

On Friday advertisers including Marks & Spencer demanded that their advertising be removed from the webpage on which Moir's piece was published, although Mail Online had already taken the decision to remove banner ads.

Moir, who has won a British Press Award, made a statement defending her column late on Friday, saying it was not her intention to offend, blaming a "heavily orchestrated internet campaign" for the furore and adding that it was "mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones".

The controversy sent traffic to the Daily Mail website soaring by 21% on Friday, said New Media Age, citing figures from measurement firm Experian Hitwise.

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Stephen Brook

The GuardianTramp

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