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Critical innuendo

Moir’s the pity

With an impressively heroic inventiveness as to the interpretation of its own rules, the Press Complaints Commission has decided that Jan Moir’s rant ((Previously in Jan Moir: Undertones; Sleazy.)) about the death of Stephen Gately did not breach its code on any of three points. Firstly, the fact that she said things that were patently not true did not – luckily! – count as the publication of “inaccurate information”:

It was clearly the columnist’s opinion that “healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again”. This was a general and rhetorical point, based on the view of the prevailing health of young men. It admittedly did not take into account the possibility of SADS or similar, but the Commission did not consider that it could be read to be an authoritative and exhaustive statement of medical fact.

By this measure, if I were to write “smoking makes you live for ever and looking at David Cameron gives you rickets” in the Guardian, it would be taken as a general and rhetorical point, and by no means an authoritative and exhaustive statement of medical fact – so there would be nothing inaccurate about it at all. It would, by a simple process of elimination, be accurate, even though it was completely barking nonsense. Good! The Commission continues:

Equally, the Commission was fully aware of the widespread objection to the reference to Mr Gately’s death as not being “natural”. This was undoubtedly a highly provocative claim which was open to interpretation, and many people had considered this to be distasteful and inaccurate. It was a claim, nonetheless, that could not be established as accurate or otherwise. The article had set out the official cause of death so it was clear that this was a broad opinion rather than a factual statement.

Um, but it was exactly the coroner’s report of the official cause of death (“natural”) which enabled everyone to establish that Moir’s claim (“nothing natural”) was inaccurate. The only reason why it would remain impossible to establish it “as accurate or otherwise” would be if one had reason to believe the coroner was wrong or lying. Is that what the Commission is trying to say?

Secondly, the fact that Moir’s vicious screed was published the day before Gately’s funeral did not — luckily! – mean that the publication was not “handled sensitively at a time of grief” or that it failed to show “due regard” to “the position of the family members”, because, er, Moir is a columnist and Gately was famous, and – oh, look over there, press freedom!

On balance, the Commission felt that it should not deny the columnist the freedom to express her opinions in the way she had.

Sure! Next! Oh, thirdly, the fact that Moir’s article was saturated in gay-hating bile did not – luckily! – mean that she had made “prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s sexual orientation”, because, and I kid you not:

The columnist had not used pejorative synonyms for the word “homosexual” at any point.

So as long as you don’t call someone, say, “a faggot”, it is impossible to be homophobic? Yes!

There was a distinction between critical innuendo – which, though perhaps distasteful, was permissible in a free society – and discriminatory description of individuals.

Excellent. So, as long as you don’t use a “pejorative synonym for the word ‘homosexual'”, then expressing horror at the ooze of a gay man’s lifestyle which seeped out for all to see (or, indeed, afterwards insisting that it was sleazy of him to die), does not count as “prejudicial or pejorative reference to [his] sexual orientation” but merely critical innuendo. Result!

What do you think of self-regulation, readers?

  1. 1  Leinad  February 19, 2010, 11:41 am 

    PCC in toothless, cowardly ‘watchdog’ shock.

    Stay tuned for our documentary of the week ‘The Great Ursine Arboreal Defecation Swindle’.

  2. 2  Ricardo  February 19, 2010, 12:54 pm 

    Excellent article, one of your best. Really hits the nail on the head. Yet another victory for the tabloid newspapers, I bet they rub their hands in glee everyday at the hilarious fiction that is the PCC.

  3. 3  Kirk  February 19, 2010, 2:49 pm 

    It sounds as if the PCC are saying that Moir’s ‘claims’ are not in the business of being accurate or inaccurate. That at least is good to know.

  4. 4  petursey  February 19, 2010, 8:41 pm 

    Well reasoned post..and almost exactly the same reasoning I sent in my letter of complaint to the PCC and to my MP.

    I also recommended the abolition of the PCC and moving the function over to Ofcom

  5. 5  darjeeling junkie  February 19, 2010, 9:13 pm 

    I’m in favour of equal oppurtunities bullshit.Put simply,why can’t I have the chance to make up bollocks about anything I like? You may say that I do have this freedom.But what about the freedom to be published?For every bullshit claim about cannabis and psychosis written by drunken hacks I want my chance for a rebuttal of my own nonsense,like Scientists have proven that cannabis makes your dong really big-FACT
    I want this printed in every national newspaper,plus some regional ones.Anything less is like totally totalitarian.Are you with me on this?

  6. 6  Kaliver Omm  February 19, 2010, 9:35 pm 

    I think I’m a near-absolutist on free speech.

  7. 7  Alex Higgins  February 19, 2010, 9:42 pm 

    “prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s sexual orientation”

    Their position on race (clause 12) is much the same and equally stupid.

    You can, quite literally, argue for the industrial extermination of Jews in Poland and the former Soviet Union as a punishment for their betrayal of Germany and insidious foreign doctrines and you will not have broken the PCC rules on race.

  8. 8  Hey Zeus  February 20, 2010, 10:50 am 

    Have your free speech, disband the purposeless PCC and will SOMEbody sue Moir for libel, please?

  9. 9  Hey Zeus  February 20, 2010, 7:06 pm 

    If anyone would like to hear it, here is Mark Thomas’ broadcast from this week.

    In the first ten minutes he discusses the value of self regulation in various industries and has a marvellous perspective on the factuality of Melanie Phillips’ columns.

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