Jan Moir, Stephen Gately - The Daily Fail & Jan Moir's Gately article

Nathan O'Hagan 25/02/2010

So, last week the PCC ruled that Jan Moir effectively had no case to answer for her hateful October 16th column about the death of former Boyzone singer Stephen Gately. In her column, entitled “A strange, lonely and troubling death”, Moir consistently engaged in lurid innuendo and supposition about the circumstances surrounding Gately's death, the day before his funeral no less. Seemingly every other paragraph contained phrase such as “damaging habits”, “dark appetites”, “and a little sleazy ”,“ dangerous lifestyle”. Despite Gately having been declared to have died of natural causes due a build up of fluid on his lungs, Moir viciously sets about debunking this idea. She even stoops so low as to ridicule Gatley's mother's assertion that drugs were not involved, claiming Gately “at least” smoked cannabis on the night he died. How insensitive. Is there any mother alive who would not want to think their son had not been taking drugs when he died? Moir seems to use a mourning mum's belief in her son as a tool with which to dissect the man's lifestyle.

She also seems particularly aroused by the apparent fact that a third man was present in the apartment with Gately and his civil-law husband Andrew Cowles. According to Moir, Cowles and the third man were in the bedroom while Gately died alone in the living room. It is clear what the not-very-well-hidden implication from Moir is. “Stephen Gately died because he was a dirty queer. He and his husband were indulging in a drug-fuelled gay orgy, and this is the result. Be warned young men, that if you choose to follow this deviant lifestyle, this is the fate that awaits you.”

The woman seemed determined to turn this into a cautionary tale. Just like Hitchcock with his consistent sub plots of promiscuous women eventually receiving their comeuppance, Moir would like to have us all believe that all gay men are taking the first steps upon a similarly doom-laden path. Even the ones who don't shag around. “Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships,” she says. Hang on, 'myth'? You've really made your true views known there Jan. At this point, any pretence that this woman is anything other than a homophobe goes out the window. And one suspects that Moir would not see anything that challenges the notion of gay couples being able to live a happy and normal life as a “real sadness”.

It's pretty clear to me that Moir's column was motivated entirely by prejudice, but the PCC rejected a complaint made by Cowles (and 25,000 others, a record number of complaints), saying that censuring Moir would result in “a slide towards censorship”. But what is the real issue here? Is it one of homophobia, or one of censorship? I imagine that, were Moir's remarks directed towards an ethnic or religious group, the PCC may have taken a much firmer line with her. But should a journalist feel unable to engage in free speech, simply because people may find their views unsavoury? Should Moir be condemned for her views? Should she not have been allowed to publish them in the first instance? And what would be a suitable punishment? A heavy fine? A warning? And where does it all end? I'm reminded of the furore that followed “Sachsgate”.

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross were clearly in the wrong, but I always felt the reaction was disproportionate. Yes, they deserved some sort of censure, particularly as license fee payers pay their vastly inflated wages, but the ensuing hysteria could only lead to performers at the BBC being overly cautious, and cautious writing and performance will lead to a lack of challenging comedy and drama. On the Gately issue, the PCC said “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." Fair enough, but it felt to me as though Moir was not engaging in genuine journalistic discussion,but innuendo, conjecture and heresay, much of which was bordering on slander. Personally, I susbcribe to the Duke of Wellington's school of thought on the subject; “Publish and be damned”. I strongly believe that journalists such as Moir should feel free to air their views on any issue, no matter how repugnant they may be to me, but they should be prepared to reap the wirlwind of public outrage if they do so. And in such circumstances, the public should feel that the PCC will validate and ligitimise their outrage, not necceccarily by fines or censorship, but in this case they have let the public down. I will be interested to see the response of the PCC should a journalist publish a comparable article where the prevailing mood is one of racism rather than homophobia.

The only good thing to have come out of this whole distasteful affair is that it serves to show just how hopelessly out of touch with reality the Daily Mail are.