The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
From Liberty v. The Sun, a decision by the UK Independent Press Standards Organisation Complaint Committee handed down Mar. 24; as best I can tell, the IPSO is an industry self-regulatory organization, but one that was set up in part as a result of governmental processes.
[1.] Amanda Liberty complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "'Goops! it's my highs & lows of 2019" published on 18 December 2019.
[2.] The article was a columnist's annual "awards" page, rounding up notable stories and events from 2019. It focussed on people or events she considered to be hypocritical or worthy of derision – for example it awarded prizes to the "Eco Hypocrite Of The Year (aka Hotly Contested Hot Air Award)" and "Nancy Doolally-o Award For Services To Delusion". The columnist awarded the "Dagenham Award (Two Stops Past Barking)" to a woman named and pictured as having married a chandelier-style light fitting. It said that she was an "objectum sexual" and asked whether she was "Dim & Dimmer?"
[3.] The article also appeared online in the same form with the headline "[NAMED COLUMNIST] My annual award winners from Eco Hypocrite to Virtue Signaller Of The Year".
[4.] The complainant was the woman named and pictured as having married a chandelier. She said that her sexual orientation is an attraction to objects, described in an academic paper as "objectum sexual". She said that by awarding her the "Dagenham Award", as a result of her relationship with a chandelier, as well as positing whether she was "Dim & Dimmer" the article was pejorative to her sexual orientation in breach of Clause 12. She also raised concerns that the article referred to a chandelier style light fitting, when in fact, she was in a relationship, not a marriage, with a chandelier.
[5.] The publication did not accept that the terms of Clause 12 were engaged. It said that it did not doubt that the complainant's attraction to chandeliers was genuine, however it said that sexual orientation in the context of Clause 12 covered people who were attracted to people of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. It noted that this was the definition of sexual orientation given by the Equality Act 2010, and used by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Stonewall – for example, the complainant was not legally able to marry the chandelier and it would not be legally discriminatory to prevent such a marriage. It was not aware of any reputable definition of sexual orientation which included objectum sexual. For these reasons, the publication said that Clause 12 did not cover attraction to objects.
[6.] The publication also noted that the complainant had already put extensive details of her attraction to objects in the public domain via previous interviews and article. It said that just as the complainant had exercised her freedom of expression in speaking about her then engagement to the chandelier, the columnist was entitled to comment on it.
Relevant Code Provisions
[7.] 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.
[ii] Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
[8.] The Committee recognised that the complainant found the article to be offensive and upsetting. However, it was mindful that the Code does not cover issues of taste and offence; newspapers are free to publish information as they see fit as long as the Editors' Code is not otherwise breached.
In determining whether the terms of Clause 12 were engaged, the Committee took into account the Equality Act 2010 which defines sexual orientation as a person's sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, persons of the opposite sex or persons of either sex. The Committee considered that Clause 12 provides protection to individuals in relation to their sexual orientation towards other persons and not to objects.
As such, the complainant's attraction to an object did not fall within the definition of sexual orientation as provided by Clause 12 and the terms of Clause 12 were not engaged….