Monday, October 19, 2009

Jan Moir And All That...

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 instead.)

***EDITED to add: I'd encourage you to sign the petition calling for the PCC to be made into an independent body here: (***


Scottish Nature Boy said...

Good points all Dave - I almost expected Moir to try to defend herself along the lines of "some of my best friends are... etc". The difference that's been allowed to develop in the regulation of printed and broadcast media is somewhat bewildering (and maybe surprising given how the current Government has established regulators left, right and centre over nearly everything). But maybe not so surprising when you consider the amount of sway old Rupert and his cronies have had over Blair and his over the last few years. Perhaps now that the Sun (wot won it) has come out in favour of Cameron (god 'elp us), the New Labour bunch won't feel the need to be quite so beholden!

Rish said...

Wonderful response Dave, and in tandem with Charlie Brooker you have summed up the issues nicely. You are the first person I have seen make note of the issue of "orchestrated campaigns" issue, and thanks to the fact that you have done some research (unlike Moir and several respected columnists in various papers), I have found out about Paul Dacre's amazing double life.

I have just commented on someone's Facebook that the Daily Mail is like the BNP - everyone knows that it is bigotry under a thin veil of respectability, it is just about finding the opportunity to expose them as they truly are.

Thanks Dave.

Ed said...

First I've heard of it Dave, thanks for the info and the outrage upon outrage. Gahhh.

Graham the Funky Aardvark said...

a very nice, well balanced and thought out post.

Thank you for being so, eloquent (I hope I spelt that right)

wee folding bike said...

Cyclists complaining to the PCC had an effect on Matthew Paris:

and this James Martin guy:

Panorama this evening was quite sad too. It was about racism on an English housing estate, I can't remember where.

But then I watched David Attenborough with some fantastic frogs, read DG and Brooker which cheered me up.

Tomorrow I get to ride my bike again.

Rob said...

Blimers! I didn't know that about the PCC. What a rubbish set up. Next time I take an exam I might mark it myself...

I for one read the article, read the PCC guidelines, then spent 20 minutes drafting a letter detailing how I thought Moir had broken the rules. It's ridiculous when people assume internet protests are worth less than 'real' ones, like geriatric God-botherers signing a piece of paper they don't understand.

Dave Gorman said...

@wee folding bike: The PCC didn't have any effect on Matthew Parris... he was found to not be in breach of the code.


He apologised in his column for the remarks because the number of complaints he'd received made it clear that his attempt at humour had failed - and that was before the PCC had anything to say on the matter. (As it goes I'd say that's about right in this case. I read it and thought it was nothing more than a lazy attempt at comedy.)

The PCC had no effect on James Martin either.

It's another case of the writer apologising because there were a load of complaints but the PCC had nothing to do with it.

Incidentally, that article contains the choice sentence, "Martin looks to be a shoe-in for the most complained against writer for this year, having garnered over 500 complaints; the PCC only normally handles about 5,000 complaints a year" which certainly puts the 21,000 complaints made about Jan Moir into a new perspective for me.

For what it's worth, I feel slightly differently about the James Martin piece. All the blah-blah-lycra-blah-smug stuff is cut from the same cloth as Matthew Parris's lazy column: it's so-so and, consequently, so-what?

But he presents as fact an incident of reckless driving that, if true, put actual people in actual danger. Offering that to his readers as a simple laugh is something else entirely.

But the point remains, whatever you or I think about those articles, all that's happened is people have complained (to the papers) and apologies have been printed. The PCC hasn't actually done anything.

wee folding bike said...

Fairy nuff, I knew I had complained about them both and I knew they had backed down. I guess I assumed the PPC had done something.

Radio 4 news just said the PPC were going to ask the Mail to respond.

Umm... can you tell me the name of the cycling song played on the PA after the Glasgow show?

Dave Gorman said...

@wee folding bike: There were several cycling songs at the end of the show. They were all called 'Bicycle.' I don't have the names of the artists to hand but one of them - my favourite of them - was Emma Dean. (I think.)

Gill said...

Hi, good response Dave. I am a 49 year old woman (as it happens, ex-wife of a gay man) and guess what? I read the article and decided to complain all by myself!

I did make the point that although not technically personally affected by the article, as someone whose Ex (still a good friend) is gay, I feel that I have a vested interest in not allowing raging homophobia to take over the printed media.

I also had no idea about Paul Dacre's dual roles. How fan-bloody-tastic is that?! It's like Satan being a wine-waiter at the Last Supper.

Keep up the good work... some of us do actually surf the Net and find blogs like yours all by ourselves!!

Anonymous said...

Seriously Dave I love you, however...
Danish Comic Strips!
All this is being blown way out of proportion!
This is just another equal voice on a 'public event'
We may or may not agree,
We may or may not even sympathise with some of the sentiments,
However in a society allowing for a free voice for all,
any condemation of her expression of her views,
on whatever platform is availiable to her,
is a great cause for concern than any of those expressed views.
Censorship should be reserved for the profane not this!
This is no more harmless speculation than that surrounding the McCann Circus.
Anywayz surely there is some follow up on that beachball saga!

Miranda said...

Hi Dave - great article. Thanks. There is a petition now to Number 10 to lobby Government to make the PCC a public body. You can sign it here

Or not. Either way - good work!

SiN4 said...

I fully expect the Press Complaints Commission to do nothing of any consequence. And by doing to they may just enable the creation of a proper watchdog enforcing real standards.

So it's just possible that some little good might come out of this.

maddie said...

The Daily Liar strikes again. I was saddened but not surprised at this cruel, cruel piece of (bad*) writing.

A different league, I know, but for years, Jan Moir has deliberately been rude about places that failed to live up to her drunken expectations when she was restaurant critic on the Torygraph. A restaurateur I know well still shudders at the memory.

* For example, her sentence construction: '...As a gay rights champion, I am sure...'
Jan Moir, a champion of gay rights? I think not. Shurely shome mishtake?

alison, manchester said...

Well said Dave - as for orchestrated campaign, if that means someone posting a link on facebook which I read and was incensed by, then count me among the pitchfork waving masses on this occasion. JMs article actually shocked me in its ignorance. She took two extremely tragic deaths, in completely different circumstances, and tried to imply that the thing that linked them both was the fact that they were gay and in civil partnerships - completely irrelevant and extremely offensive. I find it amusing that since that date the DM has printed two of their other columnists critising the piece - talk about hypocrytical!

Dougie Lawson said...

What's the betting that Paul Dacre and the PCC will hide behind the "you can't libel the dead" get-out-of-jail free card.

Excellent posting, with your well considered opinions as ever.

rach said...

@ Scottish Nature Boy :

She did defend herself with the "some of my best friends..." line. See her tweet:

My son is gay. I am not homophobic. Please read my article properly

Dave Gorman said...

@Anonymous: "All this is being blown way out of proportion!
This is just another equal voice on a 'public event'"

me: I'm afraid I beg to differ. I'm not entirely sure that a funeral should be treated as a public event - no matter how famous the person is. To write such poisonous words about someone - before they're even buried - seems so utterly vile.
In principle I agree with you that the law should not necessarily need to be invoked in order to force people into being decent human beings. But the right to protest doesn't mean that the law has to correct things.
I'd heckle a comedian who told racist jokes. I'd choose not to see them again. I'd encourage other people not to see them again also. What's the difference here?

Oh yeah... here's the difference: it's not just a contrary opinion. Yes, she has every right to her opinion. But it's a newspaper. There's been a coroner's report. The verdict is that he died - while tragically early - of natural causes. But Jan has decided that the coroner is wrong. She has no information, no evidence, just prejudice and a column to fill. Its not just an opinion... it's presented as fact and it's wrong.

If you were on trial for some heinous crime and found innocent... it would not be okay for a journalist to write the next day that you were guilty and that she knew this because your eyes were too close together.

Beyond opinion, presented as fact, based on prejudice.

Vicus Scurra said...

It was heartwarming to see (hundreds of?) thousands of people complaining about this cack, but will it touch any of the hundreds of thousands who read the Daily Mail each day, and blindly accept that what they are reading is unbiased truth? I suspect there were very few regular DM readers complaining.
I think we still need a revolution.

Thank you for your well constructed words about this issue - and call in to see me if you are cycling in the area of North East Hampshire.

Scottish Nature Boy said...

@rach - thanks for that - I don't tweet so missed it. And wouldn't be following her anyway if I did! :¬)

Anonymous said...

We could call it OFRAG.

John Self said...

The PCC neatly subverted Moir's line about an orchestrated campaign when they said that "they appear to be individually written complaints."

But the Mail, by publishing two columnists denouncing Moir's column (Suzanne Moore ["Whatever killed Stephen, it wasn't being gay"] and Janet Street-Porter ["Being gay killed a man last week - but he wasn't Stephen Gately"]), can claim in defence to the PCC that it is merely permitting all shades of opinion to be heard. When of course Moir's column wasn't opinion, but factually inaccurate and frankly actionable if the coroner felt so inclined.

So a privacy law is required, the sooner the better. Because not only is the PCC in hock to the newspaper industry, its powers are pathetic. How about a game of Fantasy PCC Sanctions...

1. Apologies to be printed in same size, placing and tone as original offending articles. "We: LIED about the death. We: DOORSTEPPED the grieving family"

2. Newspaper ordered to cease publication for a day/week/month, depending on seriousness of breach.

3. Offending editors to be hounded by paparazzi (inc upskirt shots for male editors).

4. Preventive measures inc Daily Mail to be printed on invisible ink, with free lemon for every reader.


John Self said...

Oh and: anonymous: "This is no more harmless speculation than that surrounding the McCann Circus." What, so you're agreed it's dangerous, desperate and illegal?

Those claiming that Moir's article is simply an exercise in free speech must remember that free speech, like all rights, comes with responsibilities attached.

jayChesterfield said...

Don’t know if anyone has read but they make an interesting point on how the Mail publishes much worse articles (not saying that this particular article wasn’t bad, because in my opinion it was a horrible nasty article) on a weekly basis and never gets held to account

Alistair Coleman said...

Even worse about the PCC talking shop - even if (by chance) you are found to be in breach of their code, they have no actual powers to force any outcome. Not even an apology.

mattyboosh said...

Yet another excellent blog post Dave. Your views, along with Charlie Brooker's, really do echo what the rest of society who are decent, actually think.

Thanks for the good read.

Paul said...

I was a bit worried by what might be perceived as a knee-jerk (I know, that's one of those adjectives like witty/facetious) response - i.e. "let's rein in the press". The preservation of the free press is important (one may indeed legitimately argue that broadcast media are too 'reined in' by ofcom or whoever). But then it occurred to me - don't we have a free press? We're immersed in it right here and now. Do we really need those big newspapery thingies owned by large corporations any more?

Oh, and I'd like to take issue with what Mr Self said. It is not the case that rights come with responsibilities. You're thinking of privilege. This is the kind of fast one that "rights-removers" (politicians) pulled on us last century. That phraseology was regularly trotted out by them back then to justify curtailing of whatever it was they were trying to curtail at the time. The sad thing is that it largely succeeded, much to our shame (that we let them get away with it). A right's a right and isn't contingent upon anything. You may be as irresponsible with it as you please.

Scottish Wildcat said...

'You've probably heard a man say, "I'm not sexist, I love women. I just think they should be feminine... you know, pretty."'

I've never heard any man say anything remotely like that. Think you must be moving in the wrong circles, Dave!

rach said...

@Scottish Nature Boy : me neither, someone sent me the link :-P

Muskar said...

Mr Gorman,
To add weight to your argument that the PCC should be independent body here are 3 "journalists" quite happy to break the PCC guidelines as they would only revieve "a slap on the wrist"

John Self said...

I take your point Paul, and I don't want to get bogged down in semantics, but rights do come with responsibilities - ie if they are abused (not exercised responsibly), then the right is likely to be taken away. Free speech as a right has always been qualified, whether by libel now, sedition in the past, or special cases in other countries such as Holocaust denial.

Paul said...

You are quite right Mr Self - this is not the place to argue semantics. But I stand by what I said. I.e. that rights are not contingent on responsibilities.

It's far too easy to confuse the particular act of rights abuse (e.g. the standard 'shout fire in a theatre') with the general idea of the right. If I do something stupid or malicious or illegal because I abuse a right, the state gets to imprison me or fine me or apply whatever sanction is available for the particular abuse. It does not get to take away your rights because of what I did.

Except of course (again, you're right) in practice it does, because we're dozy and we let it happen. Time and again. And this is stupid of us and sad for our descendants and for those who fought and died to get them.

But the PCC is rubbish, regardless of any of the above.

And we really don't need the Daily Mail.

Or do we? If it didn't exist, all of the horrible and nasty things we associate with it might diffuse and disperse amongst us decent folk, and hide and lurk and insidiously undermine. At least with the Daily Mail in plain view we know where they are.

Or do we?


Anonymous said...

I think it should be made clear that the PCC code committee sets the code of practice and is made up of people from within the industry and the Press Complaints Commission which makes the decisions about complaints is made up by a majority of people from outside the industry.

With regard to the industry writing the rule book I think its been shown that a number of complainants have been able to list the rules that they think the article broke.


Baroness Buscombe

Matti Alderson
Chairman, Direct Marketing Commission
Director, Firehorses Ltd

Vivien Hepworth
Chairman, Grayling Political Strategy UK and Brussels

John Home Robertson
Former MP

Anthony Longden
Managing Editor, North & East London Newsquest

Ian MacGregor
Editor, The Sunday Telegraph

John McLellan
Editor, The Scotsman

Ian Nichol
Member of Criminal Cases Review Commission

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Editorial Director, Good Housekeeping

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Editorial Director
Lancashire Evening Post & Wigan Evening Post

Esther Roberton
Director (non-Executive), Scottish Council for Development and Industry

Eve Salomon
Director, Salomon Whittle Ltd
Commissioner, Better Regulation Commission

Simon Sapper
Assistant Secretary, Communication Workers' Union

The Rt Rev John Waine KCVO
Member of the Foundation, University of Es

Tina Weaver
Editor, Sunday Mirror

Peter Wright
Editor, The Mail on Sunday

Paul Dacre (Chairman)
Associated Newspapers

Ian Beales
Secretary to the Committee

Neil Benson
Trinity Mirror Plc

Adrian Faber
Express and Star, Wolverhampton

Jonathan Grun
Press Association

Doug Melloy
Rotherham and South Yorkshire Advertiser

Ian Murray
Southern Daily Echo

David Pollington
The Sunday Post

Alan Rusbridger
The Guardian

June Smith-Sheppard
Pick Me Up Magazine

Hannah Walker
South London Press

Harriet Wilson
Conde Nast

John Witherow
The Sunday Times

Anonymous said...

I'm not biased, y'know, I mean some of my best friends are ignorant, homophobic morons but sometimes I feel they shouldn't be allowed to write newspapers columns. Now, call that censorship if you like, but that's how I feel. And another thing - why don't the council ever....

Single Track said...

I can't get the Daily Mail article to load via any number of searches and links and have been (terribly glamorously!) out of the country so missed the original article and links on the day. Don't want to comment/complain without the full story - as that would make me as bad as Moir (though she DID have the full story by the sounds of things and chose to make it up anyway...) so can anyone help out with a working link please?


Dave Gorman said...

@Single Track: I just clicked on the link towards the top of this post and it worked just fine for me.

Dave said...

Omg I just woke from a 4 day coma and headed straight here... what the hell did I miss???

Anonymous said...

Have a read of this-
Jan Moir and The National Portrait Gallery:

Scottish Nature Boy said...

At the end of a week or so of homophobia in the news and as the discussion of this blog thread, there was the perfect antidote last night on Jonathan Ross's show with a song by Tim Minchin ( just before his interview slot at 38min 53sec). I think my wife has fallen in love with Tim's eyes - actually, we both have. Watch and enjoy.

Scottish Nature Boy said...

That url didn't transfer properly so I'd just go to iPlaye if you want to see it. Ross's show is a front page link at present anyway.

Single Track said...

@Scottish Nature Boy: Just watched that and laughed and laughed until I cried. That's utterly brilliant and the dig at Moir is beautifully done.

Alternative News said...

This website will continue to advertise all current companies that fund the Daily Mail and in doing so also fund discrimination

Alex said...

In case you are interested, I found this article: an apology from the Express about the Dunblane article mentioned in Dave's blog.