PCC: Off piste
Jo Glanville: PCC off piste
17 Sep 10

When the Press Complaints Commission responded to the outcry about Jan Moir’s infamous column on Stephen Gately in February, it did not uphold the complaint (25,000 lodged complaints with the PCC, an all-time record). Why, then, has it upheld Clare Balding’s?

Balding complained to the PCC that AA Gill’s description of her as a “dyke on a bike” (paywall)  discriminated against her in breach of  the editors’ code of practice; according to clause 12 of the code, newspapers must avoid prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant reference to an individual’s sexual orientation. In the case of Gately, the PCC said it could not identify “any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language”; in Balding’s case, however, the PCC ruled that “the use of the word dyke,  whether or not it was intended to be humorous – was a pejorative synonym relating to the complainant’s sexuality”, and ruled that the newspaper had been in breach of the code. 

The application of the code however appears to be a very blunt instrument. Gill is  a known provocateur who appears to delight in causing offence. By upholding Balding’s complaint, the PCC has actually weakened the force of its code and undermined the right to freedom of expression.

By Jo Glanville

Jo Glanville is editor of Looking for an enemy: eight essays on antisemitism (Short Books) and Qissat: short stories by Palestinian women (Telegram/Saqi Books). She is a former editor of Index on Censorship.