Decision of the Complaints Committee 11534-16 Miller v Daily Mail
Summary of complaint
1. Gina Miller complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in relation to an article headlined “Mrs Hedge Fund, £5m divorce and a touch of Jackie Collins”, published on 4 November 2016. The article was also published online with the headline “Mrs Hedge Fund worth £30million, the Brazilian crimper who started it all and the millionaire backer in his Bentley: Trio who launched action to halt Brexit”.
2. The article was published the day after the High Court handed down its judgment in favour of the complainant in her Article 50 legal challenge. The article was a profile of the three claimants in that case, including the complainant.
3. The complainant said that the article contained a number of prejudicial and pejorative references to her gender, which were discriminatory, in breach of Clause 12. She said that the article demeaned her achievements as an independent woman, cast doubt on her success, by presenting her biography as a series of claims she had made about herself, such as the article’s statement that “there is a whiff of the Jackie Collins heroine about Gina Miller – at least in the version she tells of her life story”, or its statement that “often described as a former model – though it is not clear exactly when she was modelling – three-times married Mrs Miller styles herself as an investment guru and philanthropist”.
4. The complainant said that as well as demeaning her achievements, the article focussed on her appearance. She objected to the reference to her as “a woman whose sultry appearances can turn heads”, noting that the word sultry means “titillating, salacious, erotic, sensual, lascivious”. She objected to the article’s statement that “like Theresa May, she has a penchant for leopard print. Unlike the Prime Minister, however, she doesn’t confine it to footwear, but is partial to whole dresses in the design. Yet despite this cougarish attire, Labour-supporting Mrs Miller paints herself as a femme serieuse.” She said that “cougar” was a well-known colloquial term for an older woman seeking a sexual relationship with a younger man.
5. The complainant said that the article suggested that she had only married her husband for financial gain, by stating his worth as £30million, before claiming: “some have wondered why a livewire like [the complainant] is married to him. Cynics may say she has about thirty million good reasons”. The complainant objected to the article’s claim that “[the complainant] is said to have been the inspiration behind Dennis Potter’s sexually charged TV drama 'Blackeyes' about a model played by her slinky namesake Gina Bellman”.
6. Before complaining to IPSO, the complainant had complained directly to the newspaper about the article’s claim that “her latest role as the Remainers’ answer to Joan of Arc is the latest chapter. But of course, Joan was burnt at the stake – a fate some Brexiteers might view as too kind for this heroine”. The complaint about this aspect of the article was resolved in direct correspondence with the newspaper. However, the complainant was concerned that the fact the newspaper had not apologised for this claim in the article legitimised threatening and spiteful comments on the article under complaint.
7. The newspaper said that the complainant had had a high profile career, and it was entitled to describe this in colourful terms, and to be sceptical about claims she had made about herself. It denied that this represented a pejorative or prejudicial reference to the complainant’s gender. It denied that it was a pejorative or prejudicial reference to the complainant’s gender to describe her as “sultry”, or to observe that someone who wears leopard-print clothing dresses in ‘cougarish attire’. It said that these were simply descriptions of her appearance, and noted that another newspaper had recently used this word “sultry” to describe a male tennis player. The newspaper explained that any complaint in relation to readers’ comments was a matter for Mail Online, as the publication responsible for moderating these comments.
Relevant Code provisions
8. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
Findings of the Committee
9. In enforcing the Code, the Committee seeks to balance the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of certain protected characteristics, including gender, as enshrined in Clause 12 (Discrimination). The article under complaint was critical of the complainant; it sought to cast doubt on her success, the veracity of her own account of her life, as well as suggesting that her marriage may have been motivated by financial interests. In the context of these criticisms, the article contained a number of references to the complainant’s appearance which she quite reasonably found to be offensive. However, the Code does not prevent criticism which is offensive to its subject; it requires that the press must not make prejudicial or pejorative references to an individual’s sex or gender. The Committee considered that the article did not contain a pejorative or prejudicial reference directed specifically at the complainant’s gender, in a manner which was discriminatory, such as to give rise to a breach of Clause 12. There was no breach of Clause 12.
10. This fully demonstrates how a critical article may, by the use of contempt, seek to belittle its subject in the eyes of the reader without any breach of the Editors’ Code. The descriptions of the complainant’s appearance and the speculation as to the reasons for her marriage appeared to be calculated to offend. But there are no provisions in the Code which protect the subject of this kind of criticism.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 05/11/2016
Date decision issued: 26/04/2017
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