The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint by BBC presenter Clare Balding against the Sunday Times after columnist AA Gill described her as a "dyke on a bike".
The PCC ruled that some of the words used by Gill in a review of Balding's programme "Britain By Bike" were used in a "demeaning and gratuitous way".
The paper defended Gill on freedom of expression grounds, saying he was well-known for his acerbic and sometimes tasteless sense of humour. The Sunday Times also claimed that "dyke" had been reclaimed by various groups as an empowering, not an offensive, term. The paper said there were motorbike and cycle clubs called "Dykes on Bikes".
The full PCC judgement will be published in the Sunday Times at the weekend. The PCC ruled that the use of the word "dyke" in the article was a "pejorative synonym relating to the complainant's sexuality". The context was "not that the reviewer was seeking positively to 'reclaim' the term, but rather to use it to refer to the complainant's sexuality in a demeaning and gratuitous way". As such, it represented a breach of the Code.
Stephen Abell, director of the PCC, said: "Freedom of expression is a key part of an open society and something which the Commission has defended robustly in the past. While the commentator is clearly entitled to his opinion about both the programme and the complainant, there are restraints placed upon him by the terms of the Editors' Code." It said the clause was "very clear that newspapers must avoid prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant reference to an individual's sexual orientation and the reference to Balding plainly breached its terms".
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