At the beginning of October, Iain Dale suddenly noticed that The Mail was not very nice about gay people and put in a complaint to the PCC. Or at least, he noticed that The Mail was not very nice about him, and the focus of their abuse was his sexuality. Anyway, the PCC have issued their judgement on the case – and the original column is ok with them:
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.
Within the broader politics of the Daily Mail, which consistently figures homosexuality as some sort of threat to the nation (see this report, where the US electorate’s rejection of same-sex marriage is called “a victory for traditional marriage”), the Ephraim Hardcastle column was mild stuff. And given that the PCC has previously asserted that Mail columnists are entitled to claim plain untruths about homosexuality as “facts”, it would be hard for them to penalise the Mail now for using a snide tone to report something that actually happened.
In fact, snarking that “gays all stick together, don’t they?” is barely worth more than a quiver of outrage when there are those who object to extending basic human rights to gay people – the right to marry someone they love and fancy, the right to have a family. The Conservative Party’s group in the European Parliament, for example, includes Valdemar Tomasevski MEP, who describes homosexuality as an “evil” from which children must be “protected”. It’s easier for the Tory party to ally with outright homophobes than it is for them to confront their own Eurosceptics. If Dale really is distressed by hate and prejudice, he might want to modify his support for Cameron’s European policy.
Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009