Conservative blogger Iain Dale has had a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission over the Daily Mail’s description of him as “overtly gay” rejected.
Dale complained to the PCC claiming a reference to his sexuality in the Ephraim Hardcastle diary column, published on 30 September, breached the discrimination clause of the editors’ code of practice.
Rejecting his complaint the press watchdog ruled that while newspapers may on occasion insult or upset people: “the right to freedom of expression that journalists enjoy also includes the right to give offence”.
The column, which reported that Dale was on the shortlist to be the Conservative candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Bracknell, referred to him as “overtly gay” and referred to an interview he gave to Pink News in which he encouraged its readers to attend the open primary, saying it was; “charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause”.
Dale claimed the article was “pejorative and snide” and the implication of the word “overtly” was that he flaunted his sexuality, which was not the case.
Read in conjunction with the comment about homosexuals sticking together, Dale claimed, the article was homophobic.
According to the adjudication published today, the newspaper said it regretted that the item had upset Dale but did not accept there had been any pejorative reference to his sexuality.
The PCC adjudication said Dale did not hide his sexual orientation, so could justifiably be described as being overt – meaning open – about it. In addition, the complainant had chosen to speak to Pink News about his political ambitions.
In deciding not to uphold Dale’s complaint, the PCC said it could understand why Dale had found the comments about him to be snide and objectionable but the fact that he took offence did not mean the editors’ code had been breached.
The PCC adjudication said: “The newspaper had used no pejorative synonym for the word ‘homosexual’ to describe the complainant: this would certainly have been a breach of the code.
“Neither had the complainant been outed as gay by the column – which would also have been a breach – as he had frequently and publicly referred to his sexual orientation.
“Rather, the complaint seemed to be that describing him as ‘overtly gay’ at the same time as saying it was ‘charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause’ was spiteful to the point of homophobia. This was a more subtle and subjective charge against the newspaper.”
The press watchdog said the context of the remarks was important as they appeared in a diary column know for: “mischievous – and sometimes self-consciously fusty – remarks that poke fun at the antics of public figures.”
The PCC added: “It may have been an uncharitable account of the complainant’s positionâ€¦but the item appeared to be relevant to the news, and to fit into the column’s style, rather than constitute an arbitrary attack on him on the basis of his sexuality.
“This might strike some as a fine distinction to make, but where it is debatable – as in this case – about whether remarks can be regarded solely as pejorative and gratuitous, the commission should be slow to restrict the right to express an opinion, however snippy it might be.
“While people may occasionally be insulted or upset by what is said about them in newspapers, the right to freedom of expression that journalists enjoy also includes the right – within the law – to give offence.”