Comment: The PCC should not be dismantled

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The Press Complaints Commission made the correct decision about Jan Moir.

Moir became infamous overnight last October for a poorly-timed and highly inflammatory article in the Daily Mail on the death of gay Boyzone star Stephen Gately.

It provoked a record number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission, while some called for her to be sacked and for the newspaper to be punished.

Today, the PCC decided not to censure the newspaper for Moir’s article.

Yes, the article was offensive and tasteless. But a newspaper should not be censured for hurting feelings. Columnists are paid to provoke and inevitably this will occasionally lead to offence.

Jan Moir exercised her right to free speech and 25,000 members of the British public exercised theirs.

The feeling of disgust over her comments was obvious but let us remember that Moir did not incite violence, she did not state that Gately died from being gay and essentially she injured only people’s feelings.

Moir’s article was cleverly written; it did not contain any “direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language”, the PCC found.

What it insinuated may well have been different – but it is dangerous and difficult to cast judgement through this kind of interpretation.

The watchdog said today: “The price of freedom of expression is that often commentators and columnists say things with which other people may not agree, may find offensive or may consider to be inappropriate.”

Inevitably, the ruling has led to calls for the dismantling of the PCC. Observers, many of whom have wrongly identified Mail editor Paul Dacre as its chief, have called it “toothless” and said the industry needs statutory regulation.

No, it doesn’t. This country needs more freedom of the press, not less. We have already nurtured a reputation as libel capital of the world.

And what can the alternative be? A press regulated by the government? Think carefully about the possibilities of that.

Stricter regulation is tempting for those who have been hurt by careless or even intentionally hurtful words in print. But a free press is the watchdog of true democracy, as unfashionable as that can sometimes seem now, and newspapers must be allowed to present unpopular and even offensive views.

Even more disturbing for the issue of press freedom were the two police complaints demanding a criminal investigation against Moir. The very idea that hurting people’s feelings should be a criminal offence is ridiculous. Fortunately, these were rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Jan Moir affair is over, closed. Everyone has had their say. To write such a piece the day before a much-loved young man’s funeral was especially tasteless and obviously hurt the feelings of Gately’s family but arguably, a free press is more important.

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