Page last updated at 01:16 GMT, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 02:16 UK

Press watchdog 'not toothless' over Stephen Gately case

Stephen Gately
Stephen Gately died of natural causes on the holiday island of Majorca

The press watchdog has said it is not "toothless" following its handling of a case surrounding the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ruled Jan Moir's comments in the Daily Mail had not breached press guidelines.

Writing in the PCC's annual review, chairman Baroness Buscombe said it had been a "difficult but important" case.

Ms Moir's piece, with a headline that said there was nothing "natural" about the death, attracted 25,000 complaints.

Gately died of natural causes at his holiday home on the island of Majorca in October last year.

'Right decision'

Baroness Buscombe said: "In the end, the commission considered that newspapers had the right to publish opinions that many might find unpalatable and offensive, and that it would not be proportionate, in this case, to rule against the free expression of the columnist's views on a subject that was the focus of intense public attention.

"This was a difficult decision to make but I believe we made the right one."

Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport select committee inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel, issued a report in February.

It criticised some of the work of the PCC, singling out coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance in Portugal in 2007 as an example of a "lack of teeth", and recommended increasing its powers.

Public censure

However, Baroness Buscombe said: "An upheld complaint is a serious outcome for any editor and puts down a marker for future press behaviour.

"The fact that breaches of the code can lead to public criticism means that editors have to consider the key ethical issues before publishing.

"We see this happening every day when calls for advice come in from editors to complaints staff at the PCC.

"We regularly hear about stories that are not published, intrusions that do not take place, thanks to the terms of the code and the decisions of the PCC."

The total number of investigations initiated by the commission increased from 949 to 1,134 in 2009, with those that raised a possible breach of the editors' code of practice rising from 678 to 738.

The PCC ruled there had been a breach of the code in 129 cases, but in 111 of those remedial action by the publication was considered sufficient by the commission.

Public censure was seen necessary in 18 cases, compared with 24 the previous year.

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