I have no issue with allowing Jan Moir to have said the disgusting, hateful, homophobic things which she did about Stephen Gately after his death. Nor do I have an issue with the Daily HateMail having the right to publish them. Freedom of speech after all means you must champion speech you dislike, as well as speech you like, but it does have other provisos too, which I believe the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) wilfully ignored. Its argument was as follows:
In a ruling, the commission said it was “uncomfortable with the tenor of the columnist’s remarks” but that censuring Moir, and the paper, would represent “a slide towards censorship”. It added: “Argument and debate are working parts of an active society and should not be constrained unnecessarily.”
The PCC’s director, Stephen Abell said the article contained flaws, but the commission had decided: “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.”
It’s a ridiculous argument. The PCC was set up because there is no such thing as absolutely free speech, yet now they conveniently champion absolute free speech, when their code was flagrantly breached? They have it entirely the wrong way around – censoring her would be the problem, not censuring her. For speech which is constrained there have to be consequences, which the PCC was set up to enforce. Yet PCC director Abell persists with a thoroughly absurd argument – the article doesn’t just contain flaws, but untruths, and in the name of denigrating Gately for his sexual orientation. I don’t think for a moment that an article can only be homophobic if it uses outright homophobic language; the subtext of her hate-filled rant couldn’t have been more homophobic. The PCC disagrees there too:
Gately’s civil partner, Andrew Cowles, said he was disgusted by the article and claimed the Daily Mail had broken the PCC’s code of conduct on three grounds, arguing that it was inaccurate, intruded into private grief and contained homophobic remarks.
The code says that the press must avoid making pejorative references to a person’s sexual orientation, but the commission said that Moir did not use any abusive or discriminatory language.
“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,” it said.
The PCC added that a distinction should be drawn “between critical innuendo which, though perhaps distasteful, was permissible in a free society – and discriminatory description of individuals, and the code was designed to constrain the latter rather than the former”.
So a homophobic subtext is now ‘critical innuendo’? Whilst it’s entirely possible that 25,000 could be wrong, that is the biggest disgrace of all. Whilst making Moir and the HateMail pay a price wouldn’t be unnecessary constrain argument or debate – her column contained neither, just underhanded homophobic slurs, and the PCC has impressively absolved itself of its own remit. If the quick way around it is merely not to use proscribed words in combination (ie. ‘fag’, ‘poof’, ‘homo’, ‘queer’) then the Commission and its code might as well not even exist.
Jan Moir’s homophobic Daily HateMail article is starting to bring up difficult questions:
The piece, by Jan Moir, has also prompted more than 1,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
A Met police spokesman said: “We have received a complaint from a member of the public.”
Moir defended her column saying suggestions of homophobia were “mischievous” and that the backlash was a “heavily orchestrated internet campaign”.
It’s awkward isn’t it? Was her invecive against Stephen Gately actually hate speech? I suspect it might have been, but is that the most important consideration? She clearly had an agenda in writing the article, as did the HateMail in publishing it, but does trying to prosecute her for it not make her a martyr and absolve the HateMail from being a regularly homophobic rag? Brendan O’Neill goes further:
The irony of the anti-Moir brigade is that it is witch-hunting Moir in the name of ‘tolerance’. She was intolerant, they say, and that is intolerable – therefore she can no longer be tolerated. The irony of expressing shrill intolerance of someone for being intolerant is lost on these illiberal liberals. In a sense, Moir hasn’t done anything particularly wrong; certainly she hasn’t done anything ‘evil’. Causing offence is a natural part of rowdy and testy public debate. No, the real problem arises when people politicise their feeling of having been offended, when they effectively argue that it is unacceptable for them to have felt offended and thus the offending party must be chastised. Offensiveness is a part of life; the politics of inoffensiveness is a threat to free speech and open debate.
Apparently attacking Jan Moir is a substitute for actually arguing why her attacks on Gately were wrong, why her ludicrous assertion that civil partnerships can be fatal was wrong, and justifying why her homophobic hate was wrong. O’Neill sounds very much like he’s advocating absolute freedom of speech, but maybe he’s not – maybe he’s just suggesting that the article didn’t cross the line between causing offense and inciting hatred. Maybe in that he has a point – Moir didn’t after all say that all gay people were evil, that Stephen got what was coming to him, or that gay equality should be rolled back; but hatred is rarely couched in such terms. It’s a seductive argument – liberal values should always have to be justified and rejustified – what I would ask though is why? Why should she be given a free pass to publish homophobic (which is clearly what it was) invective? Why should she not be held to account for it? Why should it have to be explained every time that homophobia is wrong and why it’s wrong?
I’ve seen similar commentary suggesting that being intolerant of her intolerance makes us worse than her. I don’t buy the argument for a second – I would on any occasion that she was threatened in any way or if violence were advocated, but I’ve not seen such comments. The vast majority of the attacks back on her represented common sense disgust at a homophobic attack on a man unable to defend his reputation, but I accept it did miss the greater point. Daily HateMail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, the man ultimately responsible for authorising the article for publication, remains the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) editors’ code committee. He runs an overwhelmingly homophobic tabloid newspaper, yet is also responsible for the means of redress against journalistic homophobia – Jan Moir is actually just a bit player in this story.
There are obvious limitations to free speech – there always have been, but I’m not suggesting that her anti-gay speech be banned; her freedom of speech comes with responsibilities and consequences. In a society now largely gay tolerant (if not necessarily friendly), the right solution was to go to the sponsors underpinning the article’s publication and make the case to them that their active or tacit support of Moir’s article would have business consequences for them. They apparently agreed (how many large businesses want to appear homophobic these days?) and their departure caused an impact on Dacre’s business; he won’t be thrilled with that, or with her. The nature of social media means however that this highly effective online activism is unlikely to coalesce into a larger movement – that’s regrettable, because the means are now there to bypass outdated (and ineffective) structures like the PCC, and hold bigots to account (not to mention toxic waste dumpers). We do need to constantly talk about where the line needs to be drawn with freedom of speech – but I remain highly impressed at the stand the Twitterati (and others) took against naked anti-gay hatred last week.
I’ve seen a few media reports now on yesterday’s unprecedented new media revolt against the Daily Mail.
Of all of them the Huffington Post’s takes the biscuit for ‘worst take’. They reckon it’s about a fight between the Daily Mail and The Guardian. Seriously. I suspect a showbizzy intern selected their quote heavy, googled contribution.
A meme in practically all the reports is the role of Stephen Fry. This has now culminated in a Telegraph piece titled ‘Don’t laugh – Stephen Fry is giving the orders now.’
Those, like Fry, who are “deeply dippy about all things digital”, argue that the internet is the ultimate tool of democracy. But it could just be that historians – if they are so permitted – might look back on this period as the moment when the techno-savvy few seized control of the minds of the many.
The blogger Guido Fawkes seems effectively to run British politics. Ashton Kutcher – actor and tweeter with over three million followers: “life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift” – is our spiritual leader. And Fry? Well, he’s bigger than both of them.
Where to start? Iain Dale has a lot more blog traffic than Guido. Not sure what Kutcher’s in there for save to keep the ‘celeb’s rule’ idea going (and his Twitter following like that of other Hollywood celebs doesn’t seem to translate to followers automatically watching their shows). And as for Fry?
I was actually dipping in-and-out of the #janmoir Twitter stream yesterday and very, very few of the tweets were Fry Retweets. Sure, his numbers are huge but the ‘Twitosphere’ is far, far, far huger. Presumably far too huge for most journalist’s to get their minds around.
Edited to add: Thanks to to commentator Ian Hopkinson for pointing to some evidence.
Here’s the trendastic tracking of #janmoir
Showing it peaking at 11am – @stephenfry first tweet on #janmoir was at 12:27pm.
What the ubiquitous Fry mentions in their reports are about is a journalistic laziness and the ever-present need for a celeb mention. A real piece of good work would be to actually track #janmoir all the way from where the first rock was thrown out to the furthest reach of the ripples.
Such as the excellent American analyst Evgeny Morozov‘s tweet:
notes on the new public sphere: Twitter has shrunk the Atlantic and purely local UK scandals are now global news
That’s why HuffPost bothered putting Gately on the front page – #janmoir was number one or two trending topic when they woke up, and it had that celeb angle they love.
From his palm-top device .. he struck a major blow for press freedom – when the Dutch company Trafigura won an order preventing the press from discussing the impact of its pollutants on the African coast, Fry tweeted the details to his vast audience and the gag was lifted.
Homophobic Daily HateMail columnist Jan Moir would like you to believe that it’s mischievous of those of us who seem to be part of an ‘orchestrated internet campaign’ to believe her hatchet job on Stephen Gately had ‘homophobic and bigoted undertones’. Does that make Stephen Fry ‘mischievous’? What about Phillip Schofield? A selection of Tweets:
Schofe Sat down to read up on the day. Dear God Jan Moir I hope when you lie in your bed tonight reflecting on your day you feel utterly ashamed
stephenfry …mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.” UNDERTONES??!
Let me refer you to Charlie Brooker, who has a way with words, particularly for filth like Moir:
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.
Read the whole thing. It’s a great piece, and as usual he’s right about absolutely everything. Fortunately the outrage has caused HateMail sponsors Marks & Spencer and others to withdraw from the online page at least, suggesting she’s caused considerable damage to her employer, who might think twice in the future before printing an article quite so horribly hateful again. There’s simply no money in it after all. A national newspaper, even a rag like the HateMail can’t really afford over 1,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission either.
What an odious cow. I sincerely hope she loses her job.