There have been a record number of complaints about Jan Moir's frankly horrible article on the death of Stephen Gately.
It seems impossible to imagine anyone having access to the internet and not having read (and read about) the article already so I won't bother to go over the details again. There's nothing new to add really.
I suppose it's possible that someone somewhere has just come out of a 4 day coma and so knows nothing about it and while it's stretching credibility a little to imagine that my blog would be their first online port of call, I suppose it is possible. But rather than repeat things that have been put better elsewhere I'll simply direct you to Charlie Brooker's words instead. (If you can stomach it and want to check for yourself that things haven't been blown out of proportion you could also read the original article (and its sanitised headline).
In a statement responding to the shitstorm of criticism, Moir says, "In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones." I don't know where to start with that.
Highly-orchestrated-campaign or denial-of-homophobia? I'll toss a coin. Right. Denial-of-homophobia it is.
Y'know what? I reckon she really believes that she's not homophobic. People with prejudices are often unaware of them. You've probably heard a man say, "I'm not sexist, I love women. I just think they should be feminine... you know, pretty." (And at home.)
In her defence she points out the nice things she said about him... as if pointing out that someone was "sweet" and "charming" in some way makes it okay for you to speculate about the nature of their death and present your sleazy speculation as fact with no regard for how your words will wound those who are mourning.
"Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships." Really? Was there a myth about gay people living forever? I don't honestly see how someone dying a tragically early death from natural causes strikes a blow to any other kind of myth. Unless the suggestion is that his sexuality is connected to his death and that no married, straight person could ever suffer a similar fate. And seeing as that's factually inaccurate, it's, y'know, homophobic. No matter that you also thought he was sweet and charming, Jan. In summary, when I read Moir's article, I took it to mean, "Sweet, charming, gay man dies because he's a sleazy, sordid gayer!"
Now, on to this strange idea that she's a victim of some kind of orchestrated campaign. I take offence at the idea that my offence - which feels kind of real to me - somehow doesn't count because I heard about the article online. All those people complaining are just doing it because they want to join in. Yeah!
Yes. And Marks & Spencers pulled their advertising from your page of the website and Phillip Schofield hoped you went to bed feeling ashamed because, as we all know, they're as far removed from public opinion as anyone could ever be. It's not like the host of This Morning and the nation's favourite underwear supplier are any kind of barometer.
More pertinent still is that it seems to be kind of ridiculous for anyone from The Daily Mail to be complaining about any kind of "campaign" when running such campaigns is what they seem to do best.
They seem so very happy when they're the ones waving pitchforks, rallying the mob, gleefully gloating about the number of complaints the BBC has received over the Ross/Brand affair, say, or stoking the fires by making ridiculous claims about the number of swear words used in Jerry Springer: The Opera but when the mob is gathering outside their door, one of their writers stamps her feet and yells, "Not fair!"
It's not even as if there is a campaign. Certainly not a highly orchestrated one. I've a friend who's a vicar. He saw Jerry Springer: The Opera. He loved it. He was vaguely troubled by one line but found its merits far outweighed that one moment of glibness. He was concerned when a petition arrived at his church encouraging people to complain about it. He was the only person in his congregation to have actually seen the show. Ignorance of the show's content didn't stop people signing the petition. And that petition was being sent to hundreds - probably thousands - of churches. That's a highly orchestrated campaign. That's people complaining about something they haven't seen.
But that's not what I witnessed online on the day of Moir's article. What I saw was lots of people linking directly to the article, in much the same way that I've provided links to that - and other articles - in this blog post. It's pretty obvious what I think about it but it's also perfectly possible for you to read the article and form your own opinion. That's not a highly orchestrated campaign. That's just the internet being good at being the internet. Things take off. Words get spread. Word of mouse they call it. I'll bet that the vast majority of people who've complained about the article have read it and that their offence is real.
But here's the rub. While the Mail likes to complain about broadcasters, they're also subject to completely different rules. I thought about this a while ago when the Scottish Daily Express ran a truly despicable article about the now 18 year old survivors of the Dunblane massacre. It was during online discussions about this article that I discovered the Press Complaints Commission has no obligation to listen to complaints that come from anyone other than those directly affected by the article.
If that was true for broadcasters, the only people who would be able to complain about the Ross/Brand thing would be Andrew Sachs, his granddaughter and other members of their family. The thousands of complaints could have been brushed aside. The only people who could have complained about the broadcast of Jerry Springer, The Opera would have been God and Jesus. (But not actual God and actual Jesus, no, it'd have to be the God and Jesus imagined by the flawed human being - and imagined - Jerry Springer and I reckon they'd be unlikely to put pen to paper.)
If you think a broadcaster breaches taste or decency you can complain to Ofcom. That's an independent body. The broadcasters have to abide by a code of conduct. Ofcom can punish them if they breach it. If you think a newspaper breaches taste and decency you have nowhere to turn. Unless you or your family are the subject of the article in question. The Press Complaints Commission isn't an independent body. The chair of the PCC Code Committee is Paul Dacre. He's also the editor of The Daily Mail.
The idea that the man who has to take ultimate responsibility for the printing of Moir's article is also chairing the committee that decides what rules he has to abide by seems utterly ridiculous. Especially when an article as tasteless as this (in content and timing) has been printed.
As it happens, it looks as though the PCC will still act in this instance regardless of whether any of Gateley's family complain. I hope they do. But I can't help thinking that if they do it will have less to do with doing the right thing and more to do with protecting their privileged position of self-policing. While their rules don't oblige them to listen to 21,000 complaints, to ignore them would be ridiculous... so ridiculous that it might lead to renewed calls for an independent regulatory body for the press.
In the heat of the moment it would be nice to see Jan Moir made an example of but in the long term I'd rather our press were forced to play by the same rules as our broadcasters. If they were it might not have happened in the first place.
(My blog is automatically imported to my facebook page. I don't think it always carries all the links with it. So if you're reading it over there and want to see the links... you might want to visit http://gormano.blogspot.com/2009/10/jan-moir-and-all-that.html instead.)
***EDITED to add: I'd encourage you to sign the petition calling for the PCC to be made into an independent body here: (http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/makePCCPublic/)***