News today that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has rejected the complaints about Jan Moir’s Daily Mail article – following the death of Stephen Gately – has revoked mixed reaction once again.
It was widely reported that 25,000 complaints were made following the publication of Moir’s column back in October 2009. Gately’s partner Andrew Cowles pursued his complaint; citing that the article broke the Editors’ Code of Practice on “accuracy, intrusion into grief or shock and discrimination”.
Many people have passed judgement on whether or not the PCC have made the right decision. I fully appreciate and understand that the comments made in the article may be construed as ‘offensive’ by some readers and I do see that the content of the piece would be difficult for a grieving family to accept. Focusing more on the debate of whether ‘columnists are supposed to express their views’ , the PCC published the following as part of the adjudication:
As a general point, 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. Robust opinion sparks vigorous debate; it can anger and upset. This is not of itself a bad thing. Argument and debate are working parts of an active society and should not be constrained unnecessarily (within the boundaries of the Code and the law).
The full adjudication can be read here.
Claims of sexism and inaccuracy aside, I find myself agreeing with the above comment. Newspaper columnists and media commentators of all mediums are employed to do exactly that – offer their opinion on things. News is where the facts are published objectively (well, supposedly) and comment is precisely that. Ok, so not everyone is going to agree on every occasion but that’s what its all about – sparking debate, starting the conversation, offering ‘controversial’ opinion.
As Moir pointed out in her following piece, her comments weren’t set out to offend, upset or cause distress to anyone. The journalist in her naturally raised questions about the circumstances of the singer’s death. I do feel however, that the way in which she expressed those questions was not particularly sensitive and so complaints against the piece were fully justifiable.
Several questions spring to mind from today’s news. Is the role of the columnist changing? Has political correctness taken precedence over free speech? Should controversial views be banished from column space?