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.
The Guardian’s Martin Belam makes an interesting point about the impact of the paywall on journalists whose work later falls under scrutiny. Have the Times and Sunday Times built a kind of protective layer around their journalists online?
Belam compares the recent outcry regarding AA Gill’s review last week, accused of containing homophobic language in reference to Clare Balding, with Jan Moir’s column on Stephen Gately, which saw links to the story circulating through social media in no time. In the latter case, latecomers to the event could still read the original writing for themselves online.
It does rather hark back to a previous age – where reporters reported on what had been said about a story, and you had to take their word for it, rather than the audience being able to Google it for themselves. As it is, with the paywall in place, rather than making our own minds up about whether AA Gill was nasty and homophobic, it now seems we’ll have to wait for the PCC to judge it for us.