Britain's press watchdog said on Monday it had received a record 21,000 complaints about a newspaper column on the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately after critics used Twitter to brand the article homophobic and insensitive.
Gately died Oct. 10, aged 33, while vacationing on the Spanish island of Mallorca. An autopsy found he had died of natural causes from pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs.
Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir wrote in a column Friday that Gately's death was "not, by any yardstick, a natural one" and said he died in "sleazy" circumstances, She noted that Gately, who came out publicly as gay in 1999, had been to a bar and invited a young Bulgarian man back to his apartment the night before he died. Moir concluded that "under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see." Anger at the column swept social networking site Twitter soon after Moir's piece appeared on the paper's Web site. Actor Stephen Fry urged his 860,000 Twitter followers to contact the Press Complaints Commission. Other prominent Tweeters followed suit, and provided links to the commission's Web site.
Advertisers including retail chain Marks and Spencer asked to have their ads removed from the Mail Web page carrying Moir's column.
In a blog post Monday, Fry called Moir's column an "epically ill-judged piece of gutter journalism."
Moir defended her article, claiming suggestions of homophobia were "mischievous" and suggesting the backlash was a "heavily orchestrated Internet campaign."
The commission said Monday it had received "by far the highest number of complaints ever" about a single article. It said it would write to the newspaper seeking a response before deciding whether to take further action.
Irish boy band Boyzone sold millions of albums in the 1990s and had six British No. 1 singles, including "All That I Need" and a cover of the Bee Gees' "Words."
Under the British media's self-regulatory system, newspapers are bound to adhere to the commission's code of practice, which includes commitments to accuracy, respect for privacy and avoiding "pejorative reference" to an individual's race, color, religion or disability.