The British Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has rejected a complaint by Andrew Cowles that his late partner, Irish pop singer Stephen Gately, was defamed in an article written by Jan Moir of The Daily Mail.
The column written by Moir in October 2009, a day before Gately's funeral, attracted a record 25,000 complaints from the public and was thought by many to be overtly homophobic in tone and content.
Gately's death, wrote Moir, exploded the "happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships" and was "more than a little sleazy", she added. She also referred to Gately’s “vices” and concluded “healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pajamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.” (In fact, however, they often do - and ignorance of the fact is no excuse).
Some media commentators in Britain were today arguing that the PCC ruling was a victory for free speech. Moir, they reasoned, has the right to offend. But to offend gratuitously, without reference to the facts, and on the eve of the singer’s funeral?
Moir's article was factually incorrect, offensive and frankly bigoted, which the PCC tacitly acknowledged, whilst refraining from taking further action against her.
Stephen Gately, 33, died of natural causes due to pulmonary oedema on October 10 at his holiday home on the Spanish island of Majorca. The state pathologist rejected all suspicion of foul play.
On Thursday the PCC expressed it's "regret and discomfort" over Moir's article but concluded that the newspaper had a right to publish "opinions that many readers may find unpalatable and offensive."
In its ruling the PCC said the timing of the piece was "in questionable taste" but that did not in itself constitute a breach of the code. It also conceded that although the article was clearly upsetting for Cowles, the death of a well-known celebrity was certain to prompt public discussion.
If the celebrity had been the Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, and Moir had referred to her "vices" and to the circumstances of her death being "more than a little sleazy” - on the eve of her funeral - it's hard to imagine the PCC would have made the same call.