IPSO upholds complaint against The Sun, finding that a column contained a pejorative and prejudicial reference to the Duchess of Sussex’s sex

IPSO has ruled that The Sun must inform its readers of the finding against it after it published a column about the Duchess of Sussex that breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice

IPSO has ruled that a column published by The Sun about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex contained a pejorative and prejudicial reference to the Duchess’ sex, in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The column by Jeremy Clarkson, headlined “One day, Harold the glove puppet will tell the truth about A Woman Talking B*****ks”, was published in December, 2022. 

The Sun has been instructed to publish a summary of the findings against it – written by IPSO – on the same page as the column usually appears, which will be flagged from the paper’s front page in print and on thesun.co.uk. 

IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, is the independent regulator of the majority of the UK newspaper, magazine and digital news industry. 

The complaint to IPSO came from two groups, The Fawcett Society and The WILDE Foundation, who said they were affected by breaches of the Code. 

The Committee did not uphold separate elements of the complaint that the article was inaccurate, harassed the Duchess of Sussex, and included discriminatory references to her on the grounds of race. 

The Chair of IPSO, Lord Faulks said:

“This was a serious breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. We ruled that in this article The Sun published a pejorative and prejudicial reference to the Duchess of Sussex’s sex and breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.” 

“We found that the imagery employed by the columnist in this article was humiliating and degrading toward the Duchess. 

“IPSO’s purpose is to protect the public and freedom of expression by upholding high editorial standards. In this case, The Sun failed to meet these standards. We have instructed The Sun to publish a summary of the findings written by IPSO. It will appear on the same page as the regular weekly column where the original article appeared, and online. The adjudication will be flagged from the paper’s front page and its website homepage.” 

The Chief Executive of IPSO, Charlotte Dewar added: 

“The Editors’ Code of Practice protects the right of commentators to challenge, to shock, be satirical and entertain, but it states that the press must avoid discriminatory references towards an individual. 

“By holding publications to account, we promote the standards of journalism set out in the Editors’ Code of Practice. We will take action where these standards are not met, such as in this article which contained pejorative and prejudicial language in an article discussing a woman.” 

“The article prompted more than 25,100 complaints from the public. Because of the public interest in the issues raised and because we judged there to be a potential significant breach of the Code, we took forward complaints from two representative groups, the Fawcett Society and the WILDE Foundation. The complainants raised a number of significant concerns about the article. They were considered very carefully and in detail by IPSO’s Complaints Committee, which rules on complaints made to IPSO, as was the publication’s position that, while the article should not have been published, it was not a breach of the Editors’ Code. The decision sets out in full the reasons why the complaint was upheld.” 

In ruling on the complaint, the Complaints Committee (point 52) said: 

IPSO found that the article included a number of references to the Duchess’ sex. Specifically: the writer’s claim that the Duchess exercised power via her sexual hold over her husband which, in the view of the Committee, was a reference to stereotypes about women using their sexuality to gain power, and also implied that it was the Duchess’ sexuality – rather than any other attribute or accomplishment – which was the source of her power; a comparison with two other individuals – Nicola Sturgeon and Rose West – and the only clear common characteristic between the three being their sex and the writer’s “hate”; it highlighted her position as a specifically female negative role model by referring to the Duchess’s influence on “younger people, especially girls”; and the end-point of these references being a “dream” of humiliation and degradation. 

IPSO considered that any of these references, individually, might not represent a breach of the Code.  However, to argue that a woman is in a position of influence due to “vivid bedroom promises”, to compare the hatred of an individual to other women only, and to reference a fictional scene of public humiliation given to a sexually manipulative woman, read as a whole, amounted to a breach of Clause 12 (i). 

IPSO therefore found that the column included a number of references which, taken together, amounted to a pejorative and prejudicial reference to the Duchess of Sussex’s sex in breach of the Editors’ Code. 

IPSO also considered in detail the complaint that the article included pejorative and prejudicial references to the Duchess’s race. It acknowledged the strength and sincerity of the complainants’ view that it did, but concluded that the elements of the article cited in the complaint did not provide a basis to establish that there was a pejorative reference to race, and did not uphold this element of the complaint.   

In considering the complaint relating to harassment, IPSO concluded that the publication of this single article was not sufficient to support a breach of Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code. In addition, the column did not breach Clause 1 (Accuracy).  

The whole ruling can be found here. 

 Published 30 June 2023