The Singer & The Toothless Old Dog

Observatory, The Arts

When Stephen Gately, the lead singer of Boyzone, died from natural causes on holiday, the press prepared to shred his reputation. Daily Mail sleazebag Jan Moir barely waited for his body to cool before she went to town in her column, insinuating that that a man with his lifestyle could expect to die. Stephen was openly gay, and therefore was obviously doomed to a nasty end in the tabloids. The piece was timed to run the day before his funeral in Dublin.

The article provoked national outrage. The Press Complaints Commission received more than 25,000 complaints, a record number, when Moir described events leading up to Gately’s death as “sleazy” and “less than respectable”. Gately’s spouse 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.

But the PCC has rejected the complaints. In its ruling, the commission said that censuring Moir and the paper would represent “a slide towards censorship”. The PCC’s director, Stephen Abell says “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.’

Despite the fact that the code clearly states that the press must avoid making pejorative references about a person’s sexual orientation, the commission says 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 said Moir’s claim that Gately’s death had not been “natural”, while controversial and speculative, “could not be established as accurate or otherwise”. But of course it can, by the clearly stated post mortem ruling of Death By Natural Causes in the court.

This is the frothing of a toothless old dog, jumping through hoops to protect itself. But enough about Jan Moir. We were promised a reform of the PCC, but plus ca change.