Entertainment & Arts

Clare Balding complaint over sexuality is upheld

Clare Balding
Image caption The complaint related to a review of Balding's TV show, Britain By Bike

Sports presenter Clare Balding's official complaint over an article in the Sunday Times that mocked her sexuality has been upheld.

In July, she complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) over AA Gill's review of her new TV show, in which he called her a "dyke on a bike".

The paper defended its columnist on freedom of expression grounds.

The PCC ruled that some of the words were used in a "demeaning and gratuitous way".

The newspaper defended Gill by saying he was well-known for his acerbic and sometimes tasteless sense of humour.

'Open society '

Balding took exception to Gill's review of her show, Britain By Bike, claiming his comments were irrelevant to the programme.

In a statement released after the judgement, Balding said she was "delighted" with the verdict.

"It was important for me and, crucially, for millions of other people quietly going about their work, to make the point that we deserve to be judged on our ability to do our jobs and not on the basis of our race, religion, gender or, in this case, sexual orientation.

"I would like to thank all those who offered their support via e-mail, letter and Twitter - they gave me the strength to stand up and be counted.

"I hope that this decision shows we are moving on from the days when derogatory comments about a person's sexuality were regarded as clever or funny."

The newspaper argued the term "dyke" had been reclaimed by various groups as an empowering, not an offensive, term.

The paper also drew attention to two organisations, which are both called Dykes on Bikes.

The groups represent an American lesbian motorcycling movement and a UK-based cycling movement, whose members had reclaimed the word "dyke".

It argued that an individual's sexuality should not give them an "all-encompassing protected status".

A spokesman for the newspaper declined to comment further.

Image caption The Sunday Times said AA Gill was well known for his sometimes tasteless sense of humour

However, the full PCC judgement must be published in the newspaper at the weekend.

The PCC ruled that the use of the word "dyke" in the article - whatever its intention - 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".

Balding told the PCC that she was not demanding special treatment, but just wanted to be treated the same as everybody else.

The presenter has also asked for the newspaper to apologise.

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