PCC rejects complaint over Jan Moir column about Stephen Gately's death

Commission rules that censuring 'uncomfortable' remarks would represent 'a slide towards censorship'

Read the PCC's adjudication in full
The row over Moir's Gately column: timeline

The Press Complaints Commission has rejected a complaint from the partner of Stephen Gately, the Boyzone singer who died suddenly in October, over an article by the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir.

The PCC received more than 25,000 complaints, a record number, after Moir wrote about Gately's death, describing events leading up to it as "sleazy" and "less than respectable".

The article, published on 16 October, six days after Gately's death, provoked outrage, with many readers expressing their anger on Facebook and Twitter. Gately's record company, Polydor, also complained.

In a ruling, the commission said it was "uncomfortable with the tenor of the columnist's remarks" but that censuring Moir, and the paper, would represent "a slide towards censorship". It added: "Argument and debate are working parts of an active society and should not be constrained unnecessarily."

The PCC's director, Stephen Abell said the article contained flaws, but the commission had decided: "It would not be proportionate to rule against the columnist's right to offer freely expressed views about something that was the focus of public attention."

Gately's civil partner, Andrew Cowles, said he was disgusted by the article and claimed the Daily Mail had broken the PCC's code of conduct on three grounds, arguing that it was inaccurate, intruded into private grief and contained homophobic remarks.

The code says that the press must avoid making pejorative references to a person's sexual orientation, but the commission said that Moir did not use any abusive or discriminatory language.

"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," it said.

The PCC added that a distinction should be drawn "between critical innuendo which, though perhaps distasteful, was permissible in a free society – and discriminatory description of individuals, and the code was designed to constrain the latter rather than the former".

Cowles argued the article was inaccurate because a postmortem had confirmed that Gately, who was holidaying in Majorca at the time of his death, had died from natural causes.

The PCC said Moir's claim that Gately's death had not been "natural", while controversial and speculative, "could not be established as accurate or otherwise".

It said the timing of the piece, which was published the day before Gately's funeral in Dublin, was "in questionable taste" but that did not in itself constitute a breach of the code.

It also conceded that the article was upsetting for Cowles, but said the death of a well-known celebrity was certain to prompt public discussion.

Contributor

James Robinson

The GuardianTramp

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