The Daily Mail has told its critics to “get a life” after a light-hearted front page comparing the legs of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon prompted claims of sexism.
Press Gazette understands press regulator IPSO has received over 300 complaints about the Mail’s coverage, mostly under Clause 12 (discrimination). Various politicians have also voiced their concerns.
It is unclear whether the regulator will pursue the matter.
A spokesperson said: “IPSO is able to consider complaints from an individual who has been personally and directly involved in the coverage, or journalistic activity, which gives rise to the alleged breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice; complaints from a representative group affected by an alleged breach where there is a substantial public interest; and complaints from third parties about accuracy.
“In the case of third party complaints, we will need to consider the position of the party most closely involved.
“Thus, we’ve confirmed to a number of those complainants that the concerns they have raised under Clause 12 (Discrimination) relate to Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, the subjects of the article and because of this, we are unable to consider their concerns further.”
The Mail’s coverage of Monday’s meeting between the Prime Minister and Scottish First Minister saw Conservative former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan tweet: “Seriously? Our two most senior female politicians are judged for their legs not what they said #appallingsexism”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “It’s 2017. This sexism must be consigned to history. Shame on the Daily Mail,” and the party’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman said: “Moronic! And we are in 2017!”
The paper’s front page carried a photograph of the two women sitting down for talks in Glasgow under the headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”
It was accompanied by an inside page article by the paper’s columnist Sarah Vine – the wife of the Conservative former cabinet minister Michael Gove – discussing their appearance.
“What stands out here are the legs – and the vast expanse on show,” she wrote.
“There is no doubt that both these women consider their pins to be the finest weapon in their physical arsenal.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “You would not expect me to comment on what papers should or should not put on their front pages or inside pages.”
However London mayor Sadiq Khan, on an official visit to Brussels, said it would only serve to put off girls and young women from entering politics.
“You’ve got two of the most senior politicians in the country, two very important politicians.
“The idea that we are talking about their legs beggars belief,” he said.
“What sort of message does that send to girls, young women, thinking about starting a career in politics if we are talking about their legs rather than their views on important matters?
“You compare and contrast photographs of Boris Johnson and David Cameron – nobody comments on the trousers they’re wearing or their legs.
“I want to judge Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May on their politics, their values and their vision, rather than their legs.”
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “It is slightly surprising that when the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister of the UK meet to discuss the key issues of the UK’s departure from the EU and giving the people of Scotland a choice over their future that the main focus should be on their legs and what they are wearing.
“Brexit may risk taking Britain back to the early 1970s but there is no need for coverage of events to lead the way.”
Press Gazette asked the Daily Mail for a comment and this was the title’s response: “For goodness sake, get a life! Sarah Vine’s piece, which was flagged as light-hearted, was a side-bar alongside a serious political story. It appeared in an 84-page paper packed with important news and analysis, a front page exclusive on cost-cutting in the NHS and a health supplement devoted to women’s health issues.
“For the record, the Mail was the paper which, more than any other, backed Theresa May for the top job. Again for the record, we often comment on the appearance of male politicians including Cameron’s waistline, Osborne’s hair, Corbyn’s clothes – and even Boris’s legs. Is there a rule that says political coverage must be dull or has a po-faced BBC and left-wing commentariat, so obsessed by the Daily Mail, lost all sense of humour… and proportion?”
Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code states:
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.