Politics.co.uk Blog

Friday, 6 November 2009

Iain Dale takes on the Daily Mail

Interesting post from Tory blogger Iain Dale yesterday. Dale is one of those people who occupies an important place in the area where politics and the internet meet – so much so that you forget, when talking to outside friends, that he's not really known at all in the population at large. It's a curious, very focused sort of celebrity that he inhabits.

Personally, I've always had time for him. I frequently disagree with his conclusions, but I always got the impression he was a gentleman.

So it's disappointing, and entirely unsurprising, that the Daily Mail wrote this about him:

"Overtly gay Tory blogger Iain Dale has reached the final stage of parliamentary selection for Bracknell, telling PinkNews: 'I hope any PinkNews readers who live in Bracknell will come to the open primary on October 17 to select their new candidate.

You don't even have to be a Conservative to attend.'

Isn't it charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause?"

Dale reported the newspaper to the Press Complaints Commission for this little titbit, and yesterday it found against him:

"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.

In coming to a conclusion on the matter, the Commission had to have regard to the context in which the remarks were made. They appeared in a diary column which is well known for its mischievous – and sometimes self-consciously fusty – remarks that poke fun at the antics of public figures. The piece followed the complainant’s own comments to PinkNews – a news website aimed at gay people – about his attempt to secure the nomination in Bracknell. It may have been an uncharitable account of the complainant’s position – and any intended humour may have been lost on some readers – 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."

Before I go any further, I should mention I used to work for PinkNews, just because if I don’t someone else invariably will. On the other hand, I'm not gay or Tory and neither of those facts discredit my opinion either. It seems to me the PCC got this one right. Coming from the Mail, of all newspapers, you can just smell the sneering mean-spiritedness of the overtones clinging on to the copy. Dale felt they were insinuating, and I would have probably come to the same conclusion. But….

I have another disclosure I feel I should make. I made a couple of retweets on the Jan Moir article the other day, which ended up causing such a palaver she was forced to make one of those sort-of apologies. The article just irritated me in a big way. But afterwards, surveying the wreckage, I didn’t feel very proud of myself. It felt like we'd just closed down debate a little. That's unfortunate, even when the sentiment is ugly and sad. I think probably the same is true here. It's wise of the PCC to take account of the tone of the piece. We need to be wary of this new PC censorship, even if I am much more sympathetic to its values than the Mary Whitehouse school that came before.

Dale says something interesting at the end of his post: "I can but live in hope that the Daily Mail will think twice before writing such tosh in the future." Perhaps these appeals to PCC will achieve that. It's one of those weird situations where Dale behaved correctly in complaining and the PCC behaved correctly in rejecting it. Everything behaved exactly as it should, and it's not often you can say that in Britain right now.

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