Thursday, November 05, 2009

PCC Verdict on Dale v The Daily Mail

On 30 September, the Daily Mail printed a story about me in its Ephraim Hardcastle Diary column. This is what it said...
Overtly gay Tory blogger Iain Dale has reached the final stage of parliamentary selection for Bracknell, telling PinkNews: 'I hope any PinkNews readers who live in Bracknell will come to the open primary on October 17 to select their new candidate.

You don't even have to be a Conservative to attend.'

Isn't it charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause?

I made my views fairly clear in THIS blogpost on the same day. I then complained to the Press Complaints Commission, as this was the second time the Daily Mail had printed a story like this about me. I understand many others did likewise, and I'd like to thank them again for their support. Two national newspaper editors contacted me to say how disgusted they were by the Mail piece and wished me luck with the PCC. Yesterday the PCC met to consider my complaint. This afternoon they emailed me their verdict. Here it is.

Mr Iain Dale of Kent complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an item in the Ephraim Hardcastle diary column, published in the Daily Mail on 30 September 2009, contained discriminatory references to his sexual orientation in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The piece reported that the complainant was on the shortlist of people applying to be the Conservative candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Bracknell. It described him as ‘overtly gay’, and referred to an interview he had given to Pink News in which he encouraged its readers to attend the open primary, saying it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause’.

The complainant said that the article was pejorative and snide, and that his sexual orientation was irrelevant to his decision to stand as a parliamentary candidate. The implication of the word ‘overtly’ was that he flaunted his sexuality, which was not the case. Read in conjunction with the comment about homosexuals sticking together, the article was homophobic.

While the newspaper regretted that the item had upset the complainant, it did not accept that there had been any pejorative reference to his sexuality. The complainant did not hide his sexual orientation, so could justifiably be described as being overt – meaning ‘open’ – about it. Moreover, the complainant had chosen to speak to Pink News about his political ambitions.

Adjudication

The Commission could understand why the complainant had found the comments about him to be snide and objectionable. But the fact that he had taken offence did not in itself mean that Clause 12 of the Code had been breached. The particular terms used, and the context of the item itself, were important here.

For instance, the newspaper had used no pejorative synonym for the word ‘homosexual’ to describe the complainant: this would certainly have been a breach of the Code. Neither had the complainant been outed as gay by the column – which would also have been a breach – as he had frequently and publicly referred to his sexual orientation. Rather, the complaint seemed to be that describing him as ‘overtly gay’ at the same time as saying it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause’ was spiteful to the point of homophobia. This was a more subtle and subjective charge against the newspaper.

In coming to a conclusion on the matter, the Commission had to have regard to the context in which the remarks were made. They appeared in a diary column which is well known for its mischievous – and sometimes self-consciously fusty – remarks that poke fun at the antics of public figures. The piece followed the complainant’s own comments to Pink News – a news website aimed at gay people – about his attempt to secure the nomination in Bracknell. It may have been an uncharitable account of the complainant’s position – and any intended humour may have been lost on some readers – but the item appeared to be relevant to the news, and to fit into the column’s style, rather than constitute an arbitrary attack on him on the basis of his sexuality.

This might strike some as a fine distinction to make, but where it is debatable – as in this case – about whether remarks can be regarded solely as pejorative and gratuitous, the Commission should be slow to restrict the right to express an opinion, however snippy it might be. While people may occasionally be insulted or upset by what is said about them in newspapers, the right to freedom of expression that journalists enjoy also includes the right – within the law – to give offence. The Commission regretted that the item had upset the complainant, but the complaint was not upheld.

I'm disappointed but I can't say I am surprised. Do I regret making the complaint? Not at all. I'm not going to launch into a rant against the PCC or the Daily Mail. Frankly, what would be the point? You can form your own judgment on the rights and wrongs of the findings.

I can but live in hope that the Daily Mail will think twice before writing such tosh in the future.

UPDATE: Roy Greenslade explains why he agrees with the PCC. I suppose he would, wouldn't he?!

41 comments:

quietzapple said...

The Dully Maul mauls, nature of the nasty side.

IanVisits said...

I look forward to every heterosexual politician who appears in public with their wives as being described as "overtly" straight in future.

As the PPC has declared that such language is to be expected after all when a person is "overt" about their sexuality.

Mike Smithson said...

Iain - I think the PCC is wrong here and you were right to make the complaint.

When are papers like the Mail going to grow up and realise that we are now approaching the second decade of the 21st century?

canvas said...

"the article was homophobic"

me thinks so.... You were right to challenge The Daily Mail.

waymore said...

I am still astonished that you made such a fuss about a minor filler in the "Mail"; Iain, if you eventually do become a member of parliament you will need to grow the skin of a rhino and develop the balls of a buffalo and not get excited over trivialities from such old campaigners as Peter Mackay. You will face much, much worse as an MP...get over it!

Pam Nash said...

'I can but live in hope that the Daily Mail will think twice before writing such tosh in the future.'

I'd be astonished if they thought twice about doing it again - it's only the overt sensationalism that sells their rag these days. They are overtly nasty and McKay and his colleagues are, whether they agree or not, overtly homophobic.

The good news is that they will cease to exist at all within the next 10 years, their business model is now unsustainable. I believe that the broadsheets and the redtops may survive, but the Mail is neither fish nor fowl and will wither and die.

Clive said...

Iain, perhaps you do well to read John 8:7 and reflect on the words,

"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

No shame in humility.

Keith Elliott said...

I'm really sorry about this. The PCC reply is pretty homophobic too, I'm afraid.

If they'd 'outed' you that would have been against the rules - presumably because to be a 'known homosexual' is a distressing thing.

So many aspects of this adjudication offend me that it's hard to know where to start. As I think you argued at the time, if the Mail had described you as 'overtly jewish' (or just about any other religious/ethnic group) and that 'like minded chaps' rallied to the cause, the complaint would have been upheld. That, rather than having a 'thin skin' Waymore @7.58, is why I think Mr Dale was right to pursue this.

I guess Churchill's approach was the right one...'keep buggering on!'

Sunder Katwala said...

Iain,

Bad luck, but I think you were right to make a complaint: whatever the judgement about where the code permits offensive material, it helps to highlight again how the Mail consistently publishes homophobic material. That should continue to damage their reputation, until they grow up a bit.

The PCC point about pejorative synonymns implies that they would find against the Mail in the event of a complaint against some material the column has published: for example, see the astonishing language used about Graham Norton in one of the examples linked, where he was described in the same column as 'mincing freak' and a 'bottom-feeding nonentity'.

I find the idea that Peter McKay's Ephraim Hardcastle column is not routinely homophobic risible. He clearly has some issues.

tapestry said...

They hate bloggers, not something else ....

They are used to having the place to themselves.

Stupid. Nasty. For all to see. That's the MSM in all their arrogance. Roll on a Conservative government which might bring them to heel and prevent politically-motivated evil.

You didn't pick this fight but you are right to take them on, and to keep at them until they learn how to behave as human beings should.

Puppy said...

Ha! If thats the worst homophobia in the press take a swing over to Damien Thompson's blog on the Telegragh!

David Boothroyd said...

Iain, I'm glad to know that you believe people should put right things that they have written that have given offence. Now there's the matter of the offensive and factually incorrect things you wrote about me which no doubt you will be apologizing for.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

The remarks were shitty and snide. You were right to make a complaint, but sadly, that's life. People are horrid.

What pisses me off is that they tried to make out you were mobilising the pink vote, when in fact you were merely asking people to join in the democratic process.

Dale, you are so not overtly gay. Apart from your collection of showtunes and Cliff cds. Overtly naff in musical tastes maybe.

Carry on!

robonly said...

Mind you, you know who's a bigwig on the PCC? Mr Paul Dacre, Daily Mail editor. Now I'm not suggesting anything awry but....

The Grim Reaper said...

David Boothroyd said "Now there's the matter of the offensive and factually incorrect things you wrote about me which no doubt you will be apologizing for."

Feel free to touch my scythe, Davey Boy.

Katey said...

I think they'll do it again, it's a red flag to a bull now. A bit like Obama taking on Fox, once he showed any feelings about what Fox said, Fox got worse. It may have been better to have ignored it, but we all live and learn.

The Lakelander said...

Iain: mark this date in your diary...

I found myself in agreement with Quietzapple!

I'm not quite sure who The Daily Mail is trying to appeal to anymore, but it certainly isn't appealing to any Conservative voters who have even half a brain.

Paul Burgin said...

Iain you have many people's full and total support about this, inc mine. Don't lose heart. The Daily Mail has had the spotlight shown on them a lot lately, in a way that does not make them look good. I think, indeed hope, that will continue

Peter_Mackay said...

Never mind - I'm sure the PCC will send you an apology email following your post about them - just like the Daily Mail did... :-)

flotsky said...

Hmmmm, not impressed by that at all, and what's more, I have a nagging feeling the final paragraph of the verdict will crop up again in a PCC ruling on Jan Moir's Stephen Gately article. I do hope I'm wrong

Road_Hog said...

Iain, if you don't want to be described as overtly, then stop going on about/mentioning a certain subject.

You can't have it both ways.

troymolloy said...

Pretty much as expected really. I always thought the complaint would flounder, mainly because the word 'overtly' isn't, and never has been, pejorative. The whole 'rallying to the cause' thing was certainly misjudged and probably rude, but to me 'homophobic' was a step too far - it completely devalues genuine cases of prejudice, an incidentally the piece didn't sound even the least bit fearful. Snide, yes; but what else to expect from a tabloid?

John said...

The Lakelander said...
Iain: mark this date in your diary...

I found myself in agreement with Quietzapple!

I'm not quite sure who The Daily Mail is trying to appeal to anymore, but it certainly isn't appealing to any Conservative voters who have even half a brain.

November 05, 2009 9:54 PM

I agree with you, and have stopped taking the Daily Mail. Just who do they want to win the Election?
One thing they do not want is the Tory party lead by DC.

tyger said...

Iain. Ive been watching your blog for some time and I think you're a fine man.

Victor, NW Kent said...

David Boothroyd

I missed something some time back. Please repeat the nasty allegations that Iain Dale made about you. I would love to read them.

Bob said...

Yeah the remark was 'homophobic', but who cares? Who do you think will be influenced by it? Surely you're not that insecure Iain?

Iain Dale said...

Bob, thanks for the fatuous comment. It has nothing to do with being insecure. If I felt insecure I wouldn't have said anything in the first place. I went to the PCC in part because I wanted them to think twice before they did this to anyone else.

Michaela said...

http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=NjAyMQ==

A man v Daily Mail but not THIS man !

And what does "fusty" mean?!

J said...

I need to get one of these shirts: http://www.cathtatedirect.com/files/imagecache/product/files/products/1326%20Daily%20Mail_0.jpg

Unsworth said...

So the PCC regards 'style' as mitigation?

Stunning.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Iain. So many people gat this kind of treatment from the media.
Whilst the comments are unpleasant the bones of it are true.

You are open about being gay.

You did speak to Pink News.

You did ask its readers to rally to your call.

With the press they way they are just what do you expect. They do this sort of thing to so many people.

It is a price we have to pay for a free press.

IamRhino said...

You may wish to view my actions a a minor victory in this matter ...... being a long time Daily Mail & Mail on Sunday reader of 10 years or more I have as a direct result of those comments & those of Jan Moir I no longer purchase either of the papers...
Am I gay ? .... NO I'm Male 40 with wife,3 kids, a huge mortgage self employed generally right of centre but also 'overtly' dont give two hoots about peoples sexuality .......Live & let live I say

Me vs Maradona vs Elvis said...

Leaving aside the ins and outs of your particular complaint, Iain, I couldn't help but be encouraged by the sentence...

"But the fact that he had taken offence did not in itself mean that Clause 12 of the Code had been breached."

If only more people thought like the PCC on this - there is a right to offend in this country and the fact that someone is offended by something doesn't make it wrong.

..Silicon Implant!! said...

Judging by what they published about the late Stephen Gateley, you were entirely wasting your effort. The mail apparently is unashamedly homophobic. Why would being adjudged by the PCC to have offended a poofter with their bigotry bother them in the slightest when that was clearly their unabashed intention?

No doubt the PCC judgement on the Gately piece will be equally meally-mouthed and soft-soaped.

I think the Mail performs a valuable public service. It attracts, gathers, corrals the worst of the worst of the wild-eyed foaming bigots and swivel-eyed moral panic promoters under one masthead and in one conveniently sized newspaper.

Which I can then chose not to buy or read or concern myself with in the slightest.

When it's gone, you'll miss it; these people will be back in the wild and possibly even appearing in a publication you might actually inadvertently read!

Carl Gardner, Head of Legal said...

As a matter of interest, it looks to me as though the PCC has misdirected itself as to the meaning of its own Code - Clause 12 says the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's sexual orientation. It is not about avoiding references that "can be regarded solely as pejorative and gratuitous".

Nick Colbourne said...

Live your life and be happy.

They can go to hell in a handcart!

Jonforest said...

Iain, I don't suppose you were that cross about being described as overtly homosexual because you are openly gay.
What annoyed you was the implication that you were using your sexuality to win supporters in the open primary.
Are you sure that that wasn't the case?
You asked readers of a gay magazine to support you and, crucially, made a point of telling them they didn't even have to be Conservatives to do so.
Had I been one of your opponents, I would have certainly read into that statement that the sub text was: "Vote for me, I'm gay too."
That's fine but you can't both seek to use your sexuality to gain votes, then object when it is used against you.

norfolkandchance said...

"I can but live in hope that the Daily Mail will think twice before writing such tosh in the future."

The Daily Mail has been routinely lying about the Labour Party for 100 years. It also has a ludicrously narrow minded view of what behaviour and views are and are not acceptable and will stoop to any depth to traduce anyone or any group outside this narrow band.

Then it uses any flimsy excuse to print photos of "Cocaine" Kate Moss semi naked.

I would sooner trust the Daily Sport
for accuracy and am amazed you took seriously a rant in a comic.

C Hogan-Taylor said...

This is unbelievable. The PCC uses the word "humour" in their verdict. Where is the humour? It can only be in laughing at gays. Total shower of degenerates.

hyena said...

Hyena was inspired to write a post by this, which she won't replicate here in full, but here's part of it. (http://www.lazyhyena.com/2009/11/getting-offended.html)

The problem with your complaint to the PCC is not that the Mail's words weren't nasty. The problem is that, in general, tolerance involves tolerating this kind of offensiveness.

For Christ's sake, if Hyena started frothing at the mouth at every sexist comment or article she came across, how could she turn beyond page 3 in the morning without turning in Harriet Harman? If you really wanted the PCC to tut-tut the free press for the sake of your wounded feelings, it shows your belief in free speech is only skin-deep.

In the end, it is really no good "believing" in principles like free expression if, as soon as someone upsets you, you throw your convictions out the window and start screaming for intervention. Hardcastle's column was spiteful, yes, and warranted a vociferous blogpost. But it didn't slur you or incite violence. Hyena just can't see that it justified a full-blown complaint.

Gregory Spawton said...

I agree with Hyena. Free speech is free speech. There are, of course, limts, but this fell far short of crossing the line.