Lesbian TV presenter Clare Balding has won her complaint against the Sunday Times after columnist AA Gill called her a “dyke on a bike”.
She contacted the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) over the July 25th article, which she said discriminated against her.
In the article, Gill reviewed Balding’s programme Britain By Bike and made a mock apology for calling her a “big lesbian” in the past.
He wrote: “Some time ago, I made a cheap and frankly unnecessary joke about Clare Balding looking like a big lesbian. And afterwards somebody tugged my sleeve to point out that she is a big lesbian, and I felt foolish and guilty. So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. Sorry. Now back to the dyke on a bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation.”
In its ruling, the PCC upheld her complaint and said that although some gay groups have reclaimed the word ‘dyke’, this use was a “pejorative synonym relating to the complainant’s sexuality”.
It added that the term was used in a “demeaning and gratuitous way” and that the newspaper should have apologised at the first opportunity.
PCC director Stephen Abell said: “Freedom of expression is a key part of an open society and something which the commission has defended robustly in the past.
“While the commentator is clearly entitled to his opinion about both the programme and the complainant, there are restraints placed upon him by the terms of the Editors’ Code.
“Clause 12 is very clear that newspapers must avoid prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant reference to an individual’s sexual orientation and the reference to Miss Balding plainly breached its terms.”
The Sunday Times argued that Gill was known for his “acerbic and sometimes tasteless sense of humour” and added that he had been the subject of 62 PCC complaints in the last five years, which had not been upheld on freedom of expression grounds.
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill told PinkNews.co.uk: “We are absolutely delighted. We supported Clare from the beginning of this complaint and we knew how hateful it was.
“Let’s be frank – would AA Gill call Vanessa Feltz a ‘fat Jew’ or Meera Syal a ‘fat Paki’?
“We know that some people stopped buying the Sunday Times as a result of that article. We hope the Sunday Times will apologise and people will no doubt start buying it again.”