The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint from television broadcaster Clare Balding against language used in a television review by AA Gill, published by the The Sunday Times in July.
Balding complained that a reference to her in the article as a “dyke on a bike” was a pejorative reference to her sexuality, irrelevant to the programme and a breach of Clause 12 (discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The newspaper had defended its columnist on grounds of freedom of expression and said the word “dyke” had been reclaimed as “an empowering, not offensive, term” by two “Dykes on Bikes” organisations. But the PCC said in this case the term was used in a “demeaning” way.
In this case, the commission considered that the use of the word “dyke” in the article – whether or not it was intended to be humorous – was a pejorative synonym relating to the complainant’s sexuality. The context was not that the reviewer was seeking positively to “reclaim” the term, but rather to use it to refer to the complainant’s sexuality in a demeaning and gratuitous way. This was an editorial lapse which represented a breach of the Code, and the newspaper should have apologised at the first possible opportunity.