There has been a spate of submissions to the Calcutt enquiry into press self-regulation. All the ones that have been made public have opposed the introduction of any kind of privacy law. A submission from the Press Complaints Commission claims that “there is unequivocal evidence that self-regulation is now working.” Oh really? Try telling that to David Mellor, Princess Diana, Frank Bough and a thousand other people who have been trampled underfoot in the tabloids’ stampede for circulation.
Kelvin McKenzie, editor of The Sun, said to the Commission that the code of practice framed for national newspapers has been “an outstanding success”. What he fails to mention is that his newspaper has attracted more complaints than any other.
Solicitors, the police, the public utilities —all have had ‘self-regulating’ bodies which have consistently failed to satisfy complainants of their independence or effectiveness. The newspaper industry is no different, and the Press Complaints Commission — with newspaper editors themselves on the adjudicating panel— leaves much to be desired.
But all is not lost. Clive Soley, MP, has introduced into Parliament a new bill, the aim of which is to force newspapers to “present news with due accuracy and impartiality to secure the free dissemination of news and information in the public interest; to make provision with respect to enforcement, complaints and adjudication.”
The “Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill” aims to create a government-sponsored body to consider complaints from people or groups who feel they have been misrepresented in the press. The Guardian (22 Oct) reported that Mr Soley’s main aim was to make sure press stories are accurate “and to help ordinary members of the public and minority groups get a fair play in the press. His proposals do not say anything about privacy but they do provide for the body to set ethical standards for journalists.”
When the Authority decides that a story is inaccurate, it would have the power to make newspapers publish a full correction which “shall be given a prominence equal to that of the material complained of and shall be of the length necessary to correct the material, having regard to its original context.”
So, unlike the Press Complaints Commission’s adjudications, which are usually tucked away at the back of the paper in the smallest possible print, the new rules would ensure that corrections were seen by everybody who saw the original story.
Oh no! cry the newspapers, our pages will be filled with boring rights-of-reply. The simple way to stop that, of course, would be for them not to publish lies in the first place.
The beauty of Clive Soley’s Bill is that it does not interfere in any way with the newspapers’ duty to investigate and expose wrong-doing. There are no fetters to impede genuine explorations of matters of public interest. It would, though, empower those innocent people who have been lied about and misrepresented in newspapers.
The big date for the Bill is January 29th, when the Commons give it its critical second reading. If it gets through that stage it goes to committee and has a real chance of becoming law. If you think that Bill would benefit the gay community (and it most certainly would), then write to your MP and ask him or her to support the Bill on the 29th of January. Although the Bill has cross-party support, it could easily be killed off if not enough supporters turn up for the second reading.
The papers couldn’t make up their minds about the Government’s new ‘Adoption Charter’ which was launched last month by Health Minister Tim Yeo. Today (20 Oct) headlined “New charter to ban gay couples from adopting”, while The Daily Mail said the opposite, “Gay’ adoptions go on”.
The Mail wheeled out Stephen Green, chairman of the Conservative Family Campaign to say: “The relationships of homosexuals are notoriously short-lived and their promiscuity is well-documented. It is also sad but true that adult male homosexuals in particular are often sexually interested in children. The worrying thing is that these homosexuals try to gain positions where they are in contact with them. These are exactly the ones you don’t want to place children with.”
It could also be argued, of course, that people who are prominent in right-wing religious organisations should be banned from contact with children because of their stated aim to twist the minds of the innocent with hate-filled propaganda. I shall write to Mr Yeo and make this point.
But the most amazing endorsement of the policy came from an editorial in The Daily Telegraph: “To declare that all homosexual couples regardless of their circumstances, are totally incapable of providing such care and must therefore be ruled out would not be sensible.” That’s one in the eye for Gauleiter Green.
But most convincing proof of all came in the form of two marvellous women, Judith Weeks and Pat Roman, who bravely kept a high profile during the furore. Their shining goodness — having fostered 52 children and adopted one during their 28-year relationship — puts the spiteful, hateful ‘Christians’ to shame.
The Observer (25 Oct) profiled the pair. The reporter told Judith about Tim Yeo’s comment that local authorities must make strenuous efforts to try and place children with heterosexual couples. He only excepted “older, profoundly handicapped children who may have sought adoption by a married couple without success.”
Judith Weeks was outraged: “This is saying to the carer: ‘You’re so fourth-rate, you can only have a fourth-rate child.’ It’s saying to the child: ‘As you haven’t any sense or feelings, you can just go off with anybody.’ There is a double insult.”
The ever-inventive Sun came up with another jolly good wheeze last month —the Politicians Complaints Council! “At last,” it trumpeted, “YOU can complain about your MP”. The idea is that the Council will “scrutinise the performance of all men and women elected or appointed to public office — including members of the Westminster and European Houses of Parliament. If you have a beef about an MP, send in your complaint, to the Council” (Which, we’re assured, “is entirely independent of The Sun”, even though it operates from the same Wapping address). The “totally independent” committee which will adjudicate on the complaints was revealed, by Andrew Moncur in The Guardian, to consist of — among others — the tea lady at Wapping and the father of a secretary to the editor of the Scottish Sun.
Naturally I was anxious to put this valuable new service to the test, so off went my complaint about Environment Minister John Redwood who had claimed, at the Tory Party conference, that “Hackney Council took a full-page advert to promote its course for black bereaved lesbians at a cost of £1300.”
The Pink Paper (25 Oct) proved that this story was untrue, and although Mr Redwood had got a round of applause from his Tory colleagues in Brighton, The Pink Paper dragged an admission from him that he had taken the story from The Daily Telegraph and not checked it. The following week he wrote to the paper admitting that his information was wrong, but far from apologising, claimed that his views had been misrepresented.
I demanded from the Politicians Complaints Commission that they order Mr Redwood to apologise for this slur on the gay community — and not just quietly either. He should apologise in The Sun.
I’m still awaiting developments, but I’ll keep you informed.
Eddie-watching: Prince Edward is still exerting a fascination over the press. What’s to be done with him? Lynda Lee-Potter in The Daily Mail (Oct) thought he should learn from the mistakes of his brothers and not marry some flibbertigibbet who will go haywire after a few years in the limelight. “The Queen’s bachelor son would be much better marrying a completely confident, sexually experienced older woman who’d give him a shoulder to cry on.” Who’s she thinking about? Bette Midler, perhaps, or Barbra Streisand? Edward doesn’t seem to be listening, anyway, according to The Daily Star (10 Nov). It reports that “gay hints are a slur” and to prove it: “Stunning TV girl Ulrika Jonsson has revealed that Prince Edward is a real red-blooded MAN.” She assures us that “No way is he gay, I know that for a fact.” When the paper asked her how, she replied: “Oh, ha-ha! I’m not saying, but he certainly finds women attractive.”
Ulrika’s reassurances that the nation can breathe easily did not stop Woman’s Journal (Nov) from speculating thus: “Until he is married with children, the Prince knows his sexuality will be called into question -rumours of homosexuality have been common since he first displayed an interest in the arts. There is a certain irony in the fact that there have already been six homosexual kings in England – William II, Richard I, Edward II, Richard II, James I and William III – a gay prince would by no means be a 20th century phenomenon. It is also well known that there are a large number of gay men among the staff of the Royal Household. George V was less tolerant: “I thought men like that shot themselves” he exclaimed upon hearing that an elderly friend was gay. During their lifetimes there were rumours that the Duke of Windsor and Lord Mountbatten had homosexual encounters, and the late Duke of Kent liked to pick up blond boys at the Embassy Club in London. So, if Prince Edward were gay, he would not be setting a precedent.”
The magazine goes on to say that they think that he would have the personal courage to come out, but that the Palace would stop him “afraid of the possible risk of damage to the monarchy.”
Finally, the London Evening Standard’s exploration of the burgeoning gay village in Soho, recommended the best places to go for coffee. ‘At the Old Compton cafe, where Prince Edward has been known to pop in, they have a strong gay clientele. Jimmy Somerville is one of their customers.”
Nice to see the lad has good taste in coffee and in company, whatever his sexuality.
Just when you thought it was safe to return to The Observer, it reinstates Richard Ingrams as a columnist. It took only three weeks before Mr Ingrams returned to his regular practice of slagging off gays. This time he was commenting on the London Underground’s policy of granting free travel facilities to all members of staff – as well as their husbands, wives and ‘partners’ of all gay workers on the Underground.
“No mention, I think, was made of heterosexual partners,” said Ingrams, “which might seem at first sight like discrimination. I would be most interested to know how London Transport will decide in cases of this kind how a partner will qualify for a free ticket … Naturally those of us who are paying the ever-rocketing fares will be expected to pay for this new bureaucracy.”
The following week R J Miller of Darlington wrote to the editor of The Observer to tell us that his male ‘partner’ works for British Rail, which also offers free travel concessions to wives and ‘partners’ of rail staff and their children provided that they have lived together for two years and are of the opposite sex.” Would Ingrams, asks Mr Miller, recognise the discrimination in this policy? Or is he just using the Underground’s policy “as an excuse for yet another homophobic rant?”
Mr Miller asks quite sensibly “How much longer must we suffer these diatribes in our favourite. Sunday newspaper?” The editor of The Observer, Donald Trelford, does not deign to reply, but I also would like to know why The Observer tolerates such bigotry in its pages. Would it employ a columnist who was openly racist?
Famous gays speak out: “I’ve never had a problem ‘coming out’, I’ve been very lucky with my family, they’re very understanding. Maybe that’s why I’m so relaxed about being gay.” – Rifat Ozbek, British Designer of the Year (London Evening Standard, 16 Oct).
“It’s no longer time to shilly-shally around especially concerning Ads and homophobia. I’ve never had any problems with my family about my own sexuality and I think it is very important now to speak up. I think people have found Aids a very suitable jumping-off pad for homophobia.’ – John Schlesinger, film director (London Evening Standard, 22 Oct)
“My homosexuality has been my saving grace.” – Boy George (You magazine)
Last month Gay Times reported on The Sun’s coverage of the supposed abduction and rape of a ‘boy’ of 19 by what they claimed was ‘a gay gang’. In an accompanying article (15 Oct) they claimed that “No man is safe from gay rape”, and repeated the usual lurid tales of Hampstead Heath (now dubbed Perverts Paradise by the tabloids). The Daily Express told us that this was “The eighth indecent assault by homosexuals in the capital since April” while The Daily Star said the alleged rape had been committed by a “gay gun gang”.
A few days later, the police revealed that the man in question had not been abducted from a train as he originally claimed, but had been sexually assaulted. By the 9th November, The Daily Mail (in a very small story) was reporting that the teenager had admitted that the whole story was “a pack of lies” – there had been no abduction and no rape.
So, can we expect an apology from The Sun and The Express for their defamatory attacks on the gay community? I wouldn’t think so, not even in the light of an article which appeared in The Independent on Sunday (18 Oct) under the headline “Gang rape of men ‘seldom by gays’”. It quoted Dr Gillian Mezey, a psychiatrist working at St George’s Hospital, London, who specialises in treating both male and female rape victims.
Dr Mezey, co-author of Male Victims of Sexual Assault, believes that “such attacks were carried out by heterosexuals as a perverse form of ‘gay-bashing’. By raping someone they think is homosexual the attackers are able to express both their hatred of gays and their sexual aggression.”
Harvey Milnes, a counsellor for Survivors, a group for male victims of sexual attack agrees. “I would think 99 per cent of all rapes committed in public are perpetrated by heterosexual men. Imagine the power a man feels degrading and humiliating a woman or a child and think how much more power they would feel doing it to a man.”
All this eminently sensible stuff was lost on The Daily Star which reported (9 Nov) a “Gay Gang Rape by 15 Paras”. The story concerned “Fifteen drunken paras” who “took it in turns to rape a man at an Army base.”
Are they trying to tell us that all 15 soldiers were gay? Or are they trying to avoid the truth that they were just a bunch of heterosexual thugs with a big hang-up about homosexuality?
The Public Service Unions NALGO, COHSE and NUPE are balloting their members on whether they should amalgamate into one super-union. The new union promises that it will stick by equal opportunities commitments and that ‘sexuality’ will be included in the list of those members whose interests need special protection.
Of all three unions, NALGO has probably the strongest commitment (on paper) to gay rights. But it is far from unanimous, and in the union’s newspaper, Public Service, a long-running correspondence has indicated that many are unhappy with NALGO’s commitment to its gay members. A photograph of this year’s Pride march, which showed two men kissing, raised particular fury from some quarters.
In the November issue, the Open University is the latest branch to take umbrage. Representative Barbara Kershaw says her members wish to “join their voices” to the protests about “the amount of coverage NALGO and the union journals are giving to lesbian and gay issues.”
In the same issue, another member, Pat Fenton, noticed that the objectors didn’t protest about other self-organised groups, like the disabled and retired members, only about lesbians and gays. Why is this, she wants to know.
I’ll give her three guesses.
- N. Wilson has just returned from America where he has been promoting his book about Jesus. He recounts in the London Evening Standard (30 Oct) that while over there he had seen a televangelist who proclaimed he wanted “more power for homosexuals”. Mr Wilson was intrigued: “Since the preacher obviously belonged to what is known as the Religious Right, I paid more attention to the paradox. ‘Sure ah want more power for ’em – 5,000 volts in Sparky, that’s how much power” (ie, he wanted to put them all in the electric chair) ‘and then ah pray in Mighty Jesus’s name.’”
Whatever happened to the gentle Jesus of yore?
George Bush got his just reward for letting the Bible-thumping fundamentalists take over his election campaign. Now we have President Clinton, who has lots of promises to keep. I’m sure the American gay community, who played a major part in his success, will make sure he doesn’t conveniently forget them.
But what of Ross Perot, who seemed wackier as the campaign moved on? You will remember that Mr Perot withdrew from the race at one point, saying that the Republicans had threatened to ‘smear’ his daughter just before her wedding. But what was the nature of this smear? Barbara Ehrenreich, in The Guardian (31 Oct) revealed that Bush was about to suggest that Perot’s daughter was lesbian. “How could this be?” she wondered. “A man who once said he wanted no homosexuals in his cabinet almost charged with having one in his living room?”
Perot said that a photograph had been doctored by the Republicans by “switching heads on bodies”.
“What kind of photograph he did not say, so we are left to imagine a swarm of well-known lesbians who would now have Caroline’s head,” speculates Ms Ehrenreich. ‘Or perhaps it was a real photo of Caroline, cuddling, let’s say with her fiance, who would now have the head of a woman. Except — wait a minute…’