Stephen Glover: A prissy judgement by the PCC

Media Studies: Relatively minor lapses of taste do not justify censuring and censoring a columnist

It is a good thing the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) did not exist in the 18th century. Its sensitive soul would have been appalled by the scurrilous and highly personal criticisms made by scribblers. For example, the poet Alexander Pope, whose own pen was sometimes dipped in venom, was the subject of attacks by at least 40 writers in numerous pamphlets.

John Dennis compared him to "a hunchbacked toad" – particularly nasty as Pope was a semi-cripple or hunchback. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu compared him to a monkey. As well as his deformity, the poet's Roman Catholicism, his Tory friendships and his supposedly poor knowledge of Greek (he had translated Homer's Iliad) were mocked, lampooned or otherwise abused.

I mention this because the PCC has just censured AA Gill of The Sunday Times for describing the television presenter Clare Balding as a "dyke on a bike". The paper carried the lengthy adjudication yesterday. What Mr Gill wrote in his column may be very mild stuff in comparison to what was dished out to Alexander Pope, but it was evidently distressing to Ms Balding all the same.

Mr Gill used the phrase "dyke on a bike" in a review on 25 July of her programme Britain by Bike, which he actually ended up by praising. But before he got to that point he indulged in a mock apology of earlier disobliging remarks about her sexuality. (She is openly gay.) He then wrote: "Now back to the dyke on the bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation."

Hardly Popian, is it? Mr Gill's customarily elegant pen deserted him on this occasion. The passage seems coarse and tasteless and perhaps a little cruel. "Dyke on bike" is clunking. Indeed it is so much so that Clare Balding had already morally won the argument, and had no need to make a compliant to the PCC. Any sensitive reader would have sided with her, and marvelled that Mr Gill could so let himself down.

But it does not follow that the PCC was right to find in her favour. I don't believe it was. Clause 12 of its code of conduct is clear that newspapers should avoid "prejudicial or pejorative reference" to an individual's sexual orientation. Obviously it is a question of interpretation. Ms Balding asserts that the word "dyke" is "too often used as a pejorative and insulting term". That is her opinion. I would say that, though not neutral, it is less offensive than she and the PCC believe.

I accept there must some limits to what a columnist can write. We do not live in the 18th century. For all that, the PCC is being over-sensitive. I can understand that Ms Balding was hurt, and I am sorry that she was. But what Mr Gill wrote could not in a million years incite homophobia. Nor, because of its pointless crudity, did it damage Clare Balding. It was just childish and silly – but these are not crimes, just relatively minor lapses of taste which do not justify censuring and censoring a columnist. I hope the PCC is not turning into the Thought Police.





The forgettable redesign of 'The Spectator'

I learnt long ago to avoid immediate definitive judgements about a publication's redesign, and I shall try not to forget the lesson in writing about The Spectator's new makeover. I like the clarity of the new contents page and I dislike the caricatures of columnists above their pieces.

The overall effect is to make the magazine look rather more serious, which is probably a good thing. But what does it matter? In a month or two, most readers will have forgotten that there ever was a redesign. There is not much point in buffing up the bodywork when the engine, though still basically sound and well engineered, continues occasionally to misfire. The days when I looked forward to picking up my copy of The Spectator are gone.

Is it just me? I don't think so. Most of my journalistic friends grumble a little about it. So do some ordinary readers I meet. After more than two decades of pretty constant growth, sales have stalled. In the 12 months to August, circulation was down by 6.3 per cent, though other serious magazines such as The Economist and The Oldie and Prospect surged ahead.

Somehow the magazine has got slightly becalmed. Not enough surprises. Not enough good pieces or must-read columnists, though Taki and Charles Moore continue to delight. Of course there is absolutely no need to panic, and we must always remember that under the stewardship of its chief executive, Andrew Neil, The Spectator will always have an alternative life as an organisation throwing an ever increasing number of lavish parties.





Janus face of the BBC's coverage of the Pope

The BBC is a curious organisation. Before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain, it was generous in offering his critics a platform from which to throw various missiles at him.

On the eve of his arrival, the Corporation broadcast a programme called Trials of a Pope, hardly a paean of praise. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, had a point when he recently accused the BBC of "a consistent anti-Christian bias".

But once the Pope touched down in Edinburgh, everything changed. The BBC went into State pageant mode. I noticed it first when James Naughtie was describing the Pope's progress down Princes Street in hushed tones. The quite modest crowds were pronounced substantial.

His colleague Huw Edwards said how well the Pope had got on with the Queen. Much time was given over to interviewing happy onlookers. Vatican TV couldn't have done better. Say what you like about the BBC, it does love a spectacle.

s.glover@independent.co.uk



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015