The PCC (Press Complaints Comission) Act - Analysing the Destructive News Story Titled A Strange, Lonely and Troubling Death

This essay will cover the key issues with the PCC (Press Complaints Commission) act and analyse a destructive news story piece titled “A Strange, lonely and troubling death”. This story was written regarding the death of a member of the pop group Boyzone. His name was Stephen Gately. The essay is going to explore these key issues by following the guidelines of the Press Complaints Commission act step by step and reading about the defensive arguments given for explanations towards cases.

The Press Complaints Commission was set up in 1991. There is a wide amount of people who work for the press complaints commission, 17 in fact. There is one chairman, seven press members and nine public members. The press complaints commission handles numerous letters, comments, audio, words and pictures for newspapers and magazines. They also have to deal with the behaviour of a journalist, keep an eye on harassment, intrusion, hidden cameras and consent for interviews with children.

There are 16 clauses of the press complaints commission code which need to be adhered by. These 16 clauses are accuracy, opportunity to reply, privacy, harassment, intrusion into grief or shock, children, children in sex cases, hospitals, reporting of crime, clandestine devices and subterfuge, victims of sexual assault, discrimination, financial journalism, confidential sources, witness payments in criminal trails and payment to criminals.

On the 10 October 2009, former band member of Boyzone, singer Stephen Gately, aged 33, died at his holiday home on the Spanish island of Majorca. His death was due to natural causes. “All the official reports point to a natural death, there were not any suspicious circumstances.” However, on the day before the funeral of Stephen Gately, the 16 October 2009, a journalist called Jan Moir published a news story which distressed the public and resulted in bad publicity. The news story headlined ‘A strange, lonely, and troubling death...’ raised a record number of 25,000 complaints with the general public. The public took great offence to the words which Jan Moir had written. On the papers website Mail online, highly critical comments soared with the public and as of later some of the comments had been deleted by a moderator. Jan Moir had decided and written in black and white in her news story that Stephen Gately’s death is some how connected to the fact that he was a gay man and that his drugs and rock and roll lifestyle was responsible for his death. This view then became interpreted as homophobic and hateful by the general public. Here Jan Moir says:
"Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again. Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one."
Many people do actually know that young people can just die suddenly without any explanation at all. Further down in Jan Moir’s news story she also comments on the death of comedian Matt Lucas’s partner Kevin McGee she goes on to say that same sex civil ceremonies are a failure and do not work. Jan Moir has therefore contained inaccurate information in breach of these clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 1 (Accuracy) The press must not publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. Once inaccuracy is recognised it must be corrected, promptly and an apology needs to be published. 2 (Intrusion into grief or shock) Enquired and approaches towards cases involving personal grief or shock must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication to be handled sensitively. 3 (Discrimination) Harmful references to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability needs to be avoided by the press unless genuinely relevant to the news story. People who can afford to go to court have drawn public attention to the issue of privacy saying that they should have the right to be respected for their privacy but “Before the Human Rights Act 1998 (which became law in October 2000) there was no specific legal right to privacy in the UK.”

The 25,000 complaints were unfortunately not upheld as the press complaints commission said: “It was an essential point of principal that papers could print views which might offend readers.” Stephen Gately’s civil partner, Andrew Cowles was the one that came forward and complained about this news story to the press complaints commission saying that it was an inaccurate article and that it was very intrusive a discriminatory piece of writing and all at a time of grief.

The Daily Mails newspaper print version of the news story had the headline “A Strange, lonely and troubling death...” whilst the online version, the version which received the most complaints had the headline “Why there was nothing natural about Stephen Gately’s death.” The online headline was eventually changed, which was in fact inaccurate. The article then spread to online networking sites, these included Twitter and Facebook. Once on these sites even more complaints were raised. When looking back at the Jonathon Ross incident in 2008, the press complaints commission received seven complaints from radio listeners from the radio show Jonathon Ross broadcasts, but it was not until the Daily Mail told the UK that it is a case that should be complained about, which is when the complaints started to roll in. In a sense the Daily Mail is getting a taste of its own medicine. What is happening is that what goes around comes around, old media has used the media to stir complaints and as Twitter is a new and ever increasing demographic it can be just as vocal and in some ways more affective.

Jan Moir later came forward by writing a following article in which she apologised to Stephen Gately’s family for her previous ill mannered news story. The Mail online took full responsibility for the distress the news story had caused. Although the news story was upsetting to Stephen Gately’s family and friends it was in fact a way to prompt up a public discussion over a well known celebrity’s death. Stephen Gately had a very large number of fans worldwide so when these people came to read this news story they would find it very hurtful and discriminating and would disagree with all the terms that had been stated. This is because a genuine fan would not like to hear or indeed read about anything bad which is aimed at one of their favourite celebrities. Although Jan Moir did apologise it was not a fair ruling because all she happened to do was apologise to the public and Stephen Gatley’s family. Nothing happened to Jan Moir after apologising and nothing could change what she wrote in the news story because it had already been written, printed and read by many people across of the United Kingdom.

It could be argued that the ruling towards this news story was unfair. The reason for this is that it did cause a great deal of upset and distress for Stephen Gately’s family and close friends and also that it could not have come at a more insensitive time, the day before Stephen Gately’s funeral was due to take place. However on the other hand I do agree with Welsh and Greenwood’s statement “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression” as this is what a journalist would argue in a case like this. Some of the opinions Jan Moir wrote within her news story seemed to be far too insensitive to write about. These should not have really been brought out to the public for them to read because it was not fair to write about them in the first place without actual facts. Jan Moir needed to take in the statement by Frost, C “It is worth remembering that a journalist affects the whole of society and they are not just the preserve of editors and journalists.”

To conclude this essay some might say that what really needs to be brought to attention is the question of what actually is a fair conclusion to this news story. Once the thoughts and opinions of the journalist have already gone to print and have been published for all to see and read the damage has already been done. Apologies can be made by the journalist but the upset and distress caused to the family by the article will never be forgotten.