Anorak | Stephen Gately: How The Media Feasted Off The Boyzone Star’s Remains

Stephen Gately: How The Media Feasted Off The Boyzone Star’s Remains

by | 19th, February 2010

stephen-gatelySTEPHEN Gately, of Boyzone, died and the media set out to bury him. From the off the tabloids got the facts wrong. The Mail swiftly introduced tales of “suicide” and abuse directed ay Gately for his gayness.

The Media Destroys Stephen Gately With Drugs And Suicide

Ronan Keating gave the death the dignity the tabloids could not handle.

Boyzone Give Stephen Gately A Dignity The Media Cannot Handle

It was an international free for all. This from German tabloid Bild:


How Gately died was a matter of betting. The Sun told us of that gayness over and over:

Stephen’s gay partner ANDY COWLES, 32, also admitted to detectives the star had been smoking the drug, a police source said.

And then in rode Jan Moir. Anorak was quick to spot her contributions and in Stephen Gately’s Death Becomes A Tale Of Gay Sex, Homophobia And ‘Murder’ told readers:

There are dozens of household names out there with secret and not-so-secret troubles, or damaging habits both past and present.

Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney, Britney; we all know who they are. And we are not being ghoulish to anticipate, or to be mentally braced for, their bad end: a long night, a mysterious stranger, an odd set of circumstances that herald a sudden death.

The media firestorm hit. The Mail sensed wrong and changed Moir’s online headline from Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death” to “A strange, lonely and troubling death . . .”

Moir relased a statement defending herself and talking of her standing in the gay community.

The gay community had their weekly meeting. The hall was busy with lesbian, black Jews for Islam, so the gays went on Twitter. Moir wrote of the 21000 haters:

“In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.”

Gays screamed “yes“. Knives wer out for Moir. The Sun escaped. Officla complaints were made to official media officials. MacGuffin of Tabloid Watch sums up:

TO the surprise of absolutely no-one, the Press Complaints Commission have rejected complaints about Jan Moir’s homophobic article about the death of Stephen Gately.

Some have seen a conspiracy in the fact that Mail Editor Paul Dacre chairs the Code of Practice Committee, while Mail on Sunday Editor Peter Wright sits on the decision-making Commission.

But there is no conspiracy: the PCC are always this useless and ineffectual.

Essentially, the PCC have said that to rule against Moir and the Mail would have meant they were acting against freedom of speech and:

This would be a slide towards censorship, which the Commission could not endorse.

This is a bit of a red herring. To censure a journalist for writing lies is not censorship. It’s what effective regulation should do.

They also repeat that as this was a columnist’s opinion piece, there is more leeway on what can be said. Indeed, it seems at times that the PCC believes a columnist can say just about anything and, as it is an opinion piece, it’s beyond criticism.

That doesn’t fully apply in this case. After all, one of Moir’s main themes was that this death was not ‘natural’. This is not about interpretation of facts. This is whether something is correct or it isn’t. And when Moir wrote:

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

she was factually wrong. The PCC claim this:

could not be established as accurate or otherwise.

Yet the postmortem said it was natural and the Mail itself has published the results of the official investigation saying the death was from ‘natural causes’.

So how can the PCC state this ‘could not be established as accurate or otherwise’?

They go on to say:

It admittedly did not take into account the possibility of SADS or similar, but the Commission did not consider that it could be read to be an authoritative and exhaustive statement of medical fact.

True, most people wouldn’t rely on Moir’s opinion for anything, least of all medical expertise. But this just looks like the PCC finding weasel-words to avoid upholding the complaint.

(See also the time they ruled that when Melanie Phillips said ‘the fact is…’ what followed shouldn’t have been understood to be a fact, because the article was an opinion piece.)

So although the PCC say Moir’s piece was:

a compendium of speculations

it did not violate Clause 1 of the Code which says:

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information


It’s worth looking at some of the other issues raised by the PCC’s lengthy adjudication.

Clause 5 of the Code covers intrusion into grief and says publication of articles should be ‘handled sensitively’. Moir’s vicious article was published the day before Gately’s funeral. Her follow-up column apologised for this (and only for this):

I would like to say sorry if I have caused distress by the insensitive timing of the column, published so close to the funeral.

Yet the PCC chooses not to rule against Moir on this point, even though she admitted it was ‘insensitive’ and the Code says handling must be ‘sensitive’. It is decisions such as that that make people scratch their heads about how the PCC works.

But, interestingly, the PCC do include some criticism, if rather veiled, of Paul Dacre:

The timing of the piece was questionable to say the least, and the Commission considered that the newspaper’s editorial judgement in this regard could be subject to legitimate criticism.

Not that the PCC is going to rule against the Mail because of that, it’s just going to point out criticism of them for the timing is ‘legitimate’.

No wonder Editors do not want the PCC to change.

Paul Dacre is Chair of the Code of Practice Committee. His is the most complained about newspaper, he’s responsible for the most complained about single article and has now been criticised for his ‘editorial judgement’. And yet he is still considered suitable to make the rules that journalists have to abide by. That simply isn’t acceptable.

In its defence, the Mail said:

The record number of complaints was an internet phenomenon ‘whipped up in a few hours on the social networks of Facebook and Twitter’ and had to be kept in perspective.

This from the paper that ‘whipped up’ the entire Sachsgate furore. And the difference is stark: at least in the Moir case, people could – and did – read the article. Only a few of the complainants about the Sachsgate broadcast actually heard the show.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

When discussing Clause 12, which covers discrimination, the PCC say:

The question of whether the article was homophobic or discriminatory to gay people in general did not fall under the remit of the Code.

This seems very surprising, and presumably applies to all articles, not just this one.

But this appears to be a problem not with the Code (the discrimination clause is actually very good) but the narrow interpretation of it by the PCC. Do they really think judging whether an article is homophobic is not within their remit?

They go on to say:

The columnist had not used pejorative synonyms for the word ‘homosexual’ at any point.

This clearly isn’t good enough. Just because a newspaper or columnist doesn’t use some crass slang insult doesn’t mean it’s not being homophobic or discriminatory. Adopting arguments such as this one make the PCC look as if they are doing everything possible to avoid ruling against the papers.

The PCC add:

it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article.

Really? So when she said Gately:

could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk

that was nothing to do with his sexuality? (She said a few days later he was ‘talented’). And nor was:

the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle.

Nor this:

Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true.

That was when she was talking about civil partnerships where she claimed Gately’s death struck

another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

This followed on from her mention of the entirely unrelated case of Kevin McGee. The Mail in their defence said this was:

relevant comment

The PCC ruled the linking of these was:


They are right about that. But what really annoyed people was the suggestion that this said something about civil partnerships. She later denied this, but it was too late. And the PCC say her view on this, although ‘illogical’ was not inaccurate or misleading.

But in what way was she right in what she said about civil partnerships?

Moreover, she never said that the antics of Tiger Woods or John Terry (and she wrote about both) struck a blow for the myth of happy-ever-after heterosexual partnerships. Why not?

In sum, the PCC said it was ‘uncomfortable’ with Moir’s ‘distasteful’ ‘compendium of speculations’, it was at times ‘illogical’ and the timing was ‘questionable’.

Yet they say it was neither inaccurate (it was), intrusive into grief (it was) or discriminatory (it was).

And so, apart from that exceptionally mild criticism, they aren’t going to do a thing about it – TW

Stephen Gately: A Career in Pictures

Posted: 19th, February 2010 | In: Reviews Comments (2) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink