Press regulator IPSO has acknowledged that a Daily Mail article about anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller was “offensive” but said it was not in breach of the Editors’ Code.
However the Mail has removed a line in the piece which said “…Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake – a fate some Brexiteers might view as too kind for this heroine.”
Miller complained to the regulator over a 4 November article headlined: “Mrs Hedge Fund, £5m divorce and a touch of Jackie Collins.”
It was published the day after the High Court handed down its judgment in favour of Miller saying Parliament must vote on triggering Article 50 to leave the European Union.
She said the article contained a number of “prejudicial and pejorative references to her gender” in breach of Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code.
She said that the article “demeaned her achievements as an independent woman” with statements like “there is a whiff of the Jackie Collins heroine about Gina Miller – at least in the version she tells of her life story” and “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”.
She also complaied that it focused on her appearance, describing her as “a woman whose sultry appearances can turn heads”.
The article said: “…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.”
Miller said that “cougar” was a well-known colloquial term for an older woman seeking a sexual relationship with a younger man.
She said the article suggested she had only married her husband for financial gain, by stating his worth as £30m, 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”.
She also objected to the article’s claim that she was the inspiration behind “Dennis Potter’s sexually charged TV drama ‘Blackeyes’ about a model played by her slinky namesake Gina Bellman”.
Miller complained drectly to the Mail 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”.
This part of the piece has been removed, but Miller remains concerned the Mail has not apologised and said that it “legitimised threatening and spiteful” reader comments posted on the piece.
The Mail defended the piece saying it was entitled to describe Miller in “colourful terms, and to be sceptical about claims she had made about herself”.
The Daily Mail declined to deal with complaints about reader comments saying this was a matter for Mail Online.
Rejecting the complaint, IPSO said: “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…
“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.”
The articles concerned include the following:
Following IPSO’s intervention, The Sun offered to remove the second article on this list from its website and also offered to remove the words “Guyanan-born”, and “foreign-born” from the first article.