Charlie Brooker on Jan Moir’s column on the death of Stephen Gately


You may have developed some awareness of the latest pitchfork-wielding Twitter flashmob. A homophobic column in the Daily Mail by Jan Moir has been greeted with upset and outrage all around. I won’t dignify her article with a link. After all, homophobia (and sexist double standards) are par for the course for the Daily Mail, and if anyone’s surprised by that they haven’t been paying attention.

The interesting aspect of this are as follows. On the one hand, the power of Twitter to organise is once again revealed. A few hash tags, and few re-tweets, and you have a fairly organised response. The Mail has been victim to this before – when Twitter users gamed one of their hateful online opinion polls by encouraging people to click the choice that most Mail readers would be opposed to.

Now Twitter has organised a response in the form of comments on the article, and in encouraging people to complain to the Press Complaints Commission, and that’s the other interesting aspect of this story.

Charlie Booker, writing for The Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, ends his article with a link to the PCC.

It has been 20 minutes since I’ve read her now-notorious column, and I'm still struggling to absorb the sheer scope of its hateful idiocy. It’s like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.

But if you read the comments to Brooker’s article, you come up against one of the peculiarities of media regulation. The print media is regulated – on a strictly voluntary basis – by the industry-funded Press Complaints Commission. The PCC is staffed by people appointed by the major publishers and has no legal power.

Believe me, the Daily Mail knows this – and exploits it to the greatest extent.

Not only is the PCC voluntary and legally toothless, but its own rules point out that only those directly affected by an article have the right to complain. In other words, if someone writes something untrue or unfair about a friend of yours, only the friend’s family have the right to complain about it. If the person being defamed – as in this case – is dead, only the family can complain. And if there is no surviving family? Nobody can complain.

Now, the objection to Moir’s article is that it is hateful and homophobic, and these are things that affect everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, or other. It could be argued that everyone suffers when bigotry is given free rein in the press. But I wonder if the PCC will see it that way.

And I wonder how it is that after hundreds of years of newspaper publishing there still isn’t a proper regulator with legal power to deal with complaints?