Columnists "should be able to offend": UK watchdog

Thu Feb 18, 2010 5:27am EST
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain's press watchdog said on Thursday it had dismissed complaints over a newspaper article which described the death of gay Boyzone singer Stephen Gately as not "natural", saying columnists should be allowed to offend.

Gately, 33, died while on holiday on the Spanish Island of Majorca last October, with a post mortem concluding that the cause of death was fluid on the lungs.

In an article for the Daily Mail newspaper under the headline "A strange, lonely and troubling death", columnist Jan Moir wrote that something was "wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun".

"Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one," she wrote.

"And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy."

The article, published the day before the singer's funeral, provoked fury with a record 25,000 people, including Gately's civil partner Andrew Cowles, contacting the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Some argued it was homophobic and broke the law as Moir had also written that the death had struck "another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships".

Moir later apologized to Gately's family for the timing of her story, while the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that there was no evidence that any crime had been committed.   Continued...