The Press Complaints Commission is to launch an inquiry into the publication of Julie Burchill’s anti-trans column in The Observer.
The commission decided to act after receiving 800 complaints about the article, which was removed from the newspaper’s sister website The Guardian.co.uk soon after it was published on 13 January.
She posted the article as a response to the negative reaction her friend Suzanne Moore had when she wrote about women idealizing for a body like a ‘Brazilian transsexual’.
The PCC does not generally take up what are called ‘third party complaints’, but does so when it feels there is sufficient public interest.
In the Editors’ Code of Practice, it is likely the publishing of Burchill’s article will conflict with the clause about discrimination.
It states the press ‘must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.’
John Mulholland, the editor of The Observer, ordered the article to be taken down and apologized for it being published in the first place.
‘On this occasion we got it wrong and in light of the hurt and offence caused I apologise and have made the decision to withdraw the piece,’ he said.
The offending column was later republished on Guardian rivals The Telegraph, for reasons of ‘freedom of speech’.
The Observer’s readers’ editor Stephen Pritchard announced the newspaper’s own internal inquiry into how the column came to be published.
In his report, he said it was a ‘mistake’ to publish it and he did not want that as a ‘legacy for The Observer’.
‘The responsibility I had was to try to make amends to a group of people we had needlessly and mistakenly offended,’ he said.
Pritchard blamed a ‘collective failure of editing’, which led to the column ‘appearing in the form that it did’.
He states ‘several senior staffers saw the piece before it appeared and could have urged wider discussion on the impact of the piece.’
Pritchard said he will meet with representatives from the transgender community, and concluded that a ‘lesson has been learned’.