The Press Complaints Commission has rejected a complaint from Stephen Gately’s civil partner over a Daily Mail article about his death.
Andrew Cowles complained that Jan Moir’s article of October 16th 2009 was intrusive, inaccurate and discriminatory.
Gately died on holiday in October from natural causes. He and Mr Cowles had reportedly been drinking at their holiday home with another man before Gately was found dead the next morning.
Ms Moir wrote an article about his death the day before his funeral. In it, she wrote that his “sleazy” death struck “another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships”.
Her comments led to outrage among gay and straight readers, and won her the title of Stonewall Bigot of the Year.
The following day, Ms Moir published an apology to Mr Gately’s family for the bad timing of her remarks and attacked the “hysterial overreaction” of those who complained.
Along with Mr Cowles’ complaint, more than 25,000 members of the public contacted the PCC. However, the press watchdog only deals with complaints from people, or their family members, who have been directly affected by articles.
Although the PCC said it could “understand how the column had generated wide anger”, it said it does not police matters of offence and decency.
It said: “The commission considered that it should be slow to prevent columnists from expressing their views, however controversial they might be.
“The price of freedom of expression is that often commentators and columnists say things with which other people may not agree, may find offensive or may consider to be inappropriate.”
Some readers had accused Ms Moir of being implicitly homophobic.
The PCC ruling said: “While many complainants considered that there was an underlying tone of negativity towards Mr Gately and the complainant on account of the fact that they were gay, it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article.”
PCC director Stephen Abell said the case had been “difficult but important”.
He added that the PCC recognised the “flaws” in the article but ruled it “would not be proportionate to rule against the columnist’s right to offer freely-expressed views about something that was the focus of public attention”.
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill told PinkNews.co.uk he did not agree with the PCC ruling.
He said: “Clearly, it’s regrettable that once again the PCC has not ruled on matters of taste and decency.
“Of course newspaper are entitled to say deeply distasteful things if they wish but the Daily Mail seriously misjudged its readers when it asked them to pander to this spasm of hatred.”
Mr Summerskill, a former journalist, said he acknowledged the freedom of the press but felt the newspaper should have been censured for publishing the article on the eve of Gately’s funeral “without any semblance or sensitivity or respect” for his partner.
Comment: In defence of Jan Moir