Note: IPSO's guidelines do not allow Fawcett to publish correspondence from The Sun. Where they have been quoted in our response below, the text is redacted. 

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3 March 2023

The Fawcett Society and The WILDE Foundation made complaints to IPSO about Jeremy Clarkson’s article published in The Sun on 18th December 2022 on the basis that it was harmful both to the individual in question – the Duchess of Sussex – and to women as a group, and more specifically to women of colour. We do not agree with The Sun’s assessment of and response to our complaint, mainly on the following grounds, which are summarised below, and outlined in more detail against each argument of The Sun’s response.

Our key points are:

  • IPSO has not “misapplied its own test for considering complaints from representative groups”. Notwithstanding IPSO’s letter to NGN, which we do not have access to, the test/s of 8(b), two-limbed or otherwise, is/are manifestly met. The breach of the code is significant for the reasons set out in this submission: it incites abuse of women in its breach of clause 12, and harasses Ms Markle in breach of clause 3. For the same reasons, the consideration of this complaint is in the public interest.
  • Sexism and racism are structural systems rooted in the context and history of our society. The main thrust of The Sun’s defence is that the article made no direct reference to the Duchess’s gender and race and was only responding to her actions. However, everything in the article, its entire context, pointed to and evoked sexist and racist ideals and imagery, including those of quite explicit gender-based violence. Additionally, the actions and behaviour of the Duke and Duchess are irrelevant to this complaint, which is under clauses for Discrimination and Harassment, and not Privacy where public disclosure and behaviour is more commonly relevant. Therefore, this should not be used as a defence – we are not disputing an individual’s right to form and express a judgement about the actions of a public figure. We are complaining about the harm that is caused by the way that judgement has been expressed.
  • The article invokes gender-based violence and perpetuates harmful attitudes towards women. The Sun argue that the language used is hyperbole and not gendered in any way. This is simply not true, and the quotes provided by us in our communication from 20th Jan 2023 are evidence of that. A newspaper publication knows better than most about the incredible and very tangible power of words and the words used here clearly outline violent imagery relating to the Duchess, while also feeding into tropes about women’s behaviour and the appropriate consequences of such behaviour. Other regulatory bodies with responsibilities to ensure that standards are upheld for the safety and well-being of the public – such as the ASA and OFSTED - recognise the role of stereotyping in perpetuating harm and seek to prevent that. We hope IPSO will do the same.

While we acknowledge that The Sun has publicly apologised for the publication of this piece, it is not enough without an acknowledgement that the content was sexist and racist; an explanation of the editorial process/es that allowed it to be published in the first place; and a guarantee that it will not happen again. We reiterate our call to IPSO for accountability in the form of:

  • A formal recognition of the breach of the Editor’s Code
  • A standards investigation into the editorial process that led to the publication of the article

Furthermore, we encourage IPSO’s Complaints Committee to consider this complaint as a matter of urgency. Over two months have already passed since the date of publication, and yet no regulatory action has yet been taken.

Below, we outline a more detailed response to the arguments made by The Sun (numbered by Fawcett):

1. [Redacted]

At various points in its response,The Sun recognizes that the article should not have been published. This opinion has also been expressed by The Sun previously. Considering this, questions about the process by which the decision was made to publish the article are entirely
valid and necessary. It is not simply a matter of having caused offence, and accountability is necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen again We would like to ensure that it is formally placed on the record The Sun breached the Code in this regard.

2. [Redacted]

We do not believe that this is a matter of taste, but a matter of both harassment and of discrimination. It is harassment because the article clearly refers to fantasising about violence against a high-profile woman, who has already spoken publicly of harassment by the media leading to threats to her life, and which have been investigated by the Police and Counter-Terrorism. It is discrimination because the column reinforces and perpetuates existing stereotypes and tropes which underpin discrimination and gendered violence.

Additionally, The Sun accept that the article did not pass their own editorial standards, of which the Editor’s Code is a part of. It is, therefore, clear that they also believe that this article is a breach of the Code.

Sexism and racism are widely recognised as not matters of taste but as legitimate areas of regulation and legislation (as set out in clause 12 of the Code). If it is accepted that the article is sexist and racist, then we believe that the complaint should be upheld. Failing to do this would suggest that there are no requirements for newspapers not to be racist and sexist in ways that perpetuate individual and social harm. This would make the press a social outlier.

Over 25000 people recognised this article as harmful. If this article is deemed not to be sexist or racist, we have to wonder, what would be considered unacceptable?

3. [Redacted]

We argue that the breach is both significant and that it is in the public interest to investigate it:

  • Significance of breach: The article contains incitement of violence against a public figure which The Sun itself claims is controversial and provokes deep feeling – which makes threats of violence more significant, regardless of intention. Evidence from Amnesty International has highlighted the prevalence of online abuse for all women including threats of violence. It has also evidenced the harm caused by this abuse with 55% of women experiencing anxiety, stress or panic attacks as a result. We operate in an environment where women in public life are increasingly targeted. We have seen the horrific murder of Jo Cox by a far-right extremist, a number of women MPs have faced severe threats of violence of endured years of harassment. Online abuse of women in public life is commonplace and highest of all for Black women. The Duchess herself has had serious threats to her life, which were investigated by Police and security agencies. Alongside this is the impact on women and the message this sends out about the acceptability of violence as a means of punishing women whose actions we do not agree with. 1 in 4 women have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult and 2 women a week are killed by their partner or former partner in a week. This article fuels a culture that gives some men permission to harm women they dislike or who’s behaviour they disagree with.

  • Public interest: It is in the public interest to uphold this complaint, both in terms of the public interest in the issue and in terms of it being in the interests of the public. The number of complaints made about this article are evidence of this public interest with thousands of women expressing horror and shock at the views expressed and the way they have been expressed. Women and especially women of colour have shared their own experiences and clearly feel personally impacted by this article, indicating the public harm that it has caused.

    The Editor’s Code includes ‘protecting public health or safety’ within its definition of ‘public interest’ and this article increased the risk of harm towards women, including the Duchess of Sussex. At a time when violence against women is in the spotlight following several tragedies, and the media reporting of these tragedies is also under scrutiny, there is a public interest in considering whether there are any limits on what articles can say regarding harassment of and discrimination against women, particularly women of colour. This is actually recognised by The Sun as a key reason for their own apology, [redacted].

4. [Redacted]

This response seeks to justify a sexist and racist response on the basis that the Duchess’ behaviour means she deserves it. This is further evidence of the failure to recognise the dynamics of misogyny, or the inappropriateness of Mr Clarkson’s article. It may be that the comments are based on a judgement of the conduct of the Duchess but our complaint is specifically about how that judgement is expressed – which is not just sexist and racist, but violently misogynistic. No behaviour - no matter how abhorrent an individual may find it - excuses the level of explicitly violent ideas and imagery expressed here, which has sexist and racist connotations.

The framing of the article – making reference to hatred of other women, one a politician, one a serial killer – explicitly links the hatred of one woman to that of others. The only thing that they have in common is that they are all women. And the only black woman of the three is singled out for particular hatred, due to her manipulation of a man.

5. [Redacted]

Here, The Sun seems to be making the point again that the behaviour of the Duke and Duchess justifies the expression of anger in the article, pointing to the newspaper’s perception of “widespread popular distaste” about their actions. The actual conduct of the couple is irrelevant to this complaint which is about the damaging way views have been expressed in this article and the harm caused.

Additionally, these are value judgements, and it can be argued that if ‘widespread popular distaste’ justifies the article, then the immense and well-evidenced anger at the publication of this article also proves that the complaint should be upheld. Nonetheless, we ask IPSO to judge the complaint on the issue at hand, which is unrelated to the actions of the Duke and Duchess.

NGN also appear to be arguing that Mr Clarkson’s comments were representative of “widespread popular distaste” (whether it is true or not that the public have largely formed this view) regarding Ms Markle’s actions.  This would conflate reasonable opinion about Ms Markle – justified or otherwise – that she and Prince Harry were wrong to leave the Royal Family, with calls for her to be attacked and the expression of hatred of her on a “cellular level”Mr Clarkson’s words were not reasonable opinion: they were discriminatory abuse.

For the reasons set out above, it is clear in the context of the article and the specific language Mr Clarkson uses that the basis of his comments are Ms Markle’s gender and not her actions.

People who have made lawful and valid (albeit perhaps disagreeable) choices about their lives are not, by and large, attacked in the streets on that basis.  Routinely, women and people of colour are attacked on the basis of their gender or ethnicity.  The fact that Mr Clarkson appeals for Ms Markle to be attacked in that way is an implicit reference to her gender and ethnicity.  Mr Clarkson makes no similar comment about Prince Harry.

6. [Redacted]

As we outline at the outset, sexism and racism are multi-faceted systems of oppression that are shaped by history and context. It is the context and the possible consequences that make the article both sexist and racist, and unacceptably so.

The words Mr Clarkson uses are explicitly misogynistic, and the tropes he leans on are steeped in racialised sexism. He speaks of his hatred of three high-profile women, describing in detail his extreme hatred of the Duchess. The fantasy he describes is one of sexual humiliation and objectification – what other reading is possible of wanting to see a woman publicly shamed by being paraded naked in the streets?

For the reasons above and outlined in the rest of this document, the specific comments Mr Clarkson makes suggest that the abuse he levels at her is on the basis of her gender, if not also her ethnicity.

7. [Redacted]

The Sun acknowledges here that the article is inexcusable but then goes on to defend the views expressed and the way that they have been expressed. It is not good enough for a media outlet of this size and influence to not put sufficient safeguards in place when making editorial decisions. It should not be for public anger to force an apology. Further, for an apology to be meaningful, it should not be accompanied by a defence such as this that seeks to minimise the significance of the breach.   

8. [Redacted]

This is simply not true. We quote from the article:

‘At night, I’m unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, “Shame!” and throw lumps of excrement at her.’

This is extremely violent imagery and an organisation that is based on the value and importance of the written word should know better than anyone the very real power of words. Mr. Clarkson is describing, in explicit terms, the violence he would like to see the Duchess subjected to. To simply call this a style of writing is to excuse something that is at its worse an incitement to violence, and at its best, an expression of pleasure at a fantasy of violence against a high-profile woman.

This is deeply disturbing in any situation, regardless of Mr Clarkson’s intentions in terms of incitement. It is especially disturbing though, in the context of a world in which women are regularly harmed for men’s pleasure. Research shows the role media plays in perpetuating rape culture and normalising gendered violence, including shaping attitudes towards victims, and how the lines are blurred between online and offline violence. This article significantly contributes to a culture that normalises violence against women and finds reasons to excuse it, often by blaming women themselves for what they are subjected to.

Additionally, Mr Clarkson is describing fantasies of the Duchess being publicly shamed, with people on the streets attacking her. This is an aggravating factor and contributes to the incitement aspect of the article: he is expressing pleasure at the idea of her being attacked by crowds.

9. [Redacted]

Sexism and racism are nearly always about the context in which they are used, the structural and historic inequalities they pertain to and the stereotypes they speak to which have centuries of history behind them. The language used in the article evokes imagery and ideals that are sexist and racist. The article clearly contained sexist language, including capitalisation of the word ‘woman’ (“A Woman Talking B*****ks” ) with reference to the Duchess and used highly gendered language about sex workers. As described elsewhere in the response, the language and reference to ‘The Walk of Atonement’ is also clearly gendered and relates to sexual degradation.

Simply disagreeing that something is sexist and racist or not does not make it so – no point is made to the contrary by The Sun here except to take a narrow and individualistic view of a structural problem. This analysis ignores centuries of victim blaming of women and the hyper sexualisation of black women and women of colour especially in relation to the ‘control’ of white men.

10. [Redacted]

Case 00545-16 Elan-Cane v The Spectator makes no such finding.  That case, in so far as it relates to discrimination, found that there was no breach in relation to a publication’s speculation around a person’s choice of pronouns.  The Decision, as published, does not make any finding in respect of the specific question of how explicit a publication may be in how it discriminates against individuals with a protected characteristic, as NGN submit.

In fact, the Codebook which accompanies the Editors’ Code, requires editors to ask themselves (in respect of clause 12):

Is the reference [to an individual] prejudicial or pejorative in a discriminatory way?

This implies that a broader interpretation of Clause 12 is appropriate.  The Codebook also requires publishers to comply not only with the letter of the Code, but with the spirit.

NGN have no basis to argue for a narrow interpretation of the Code: it should be interpreted reasonably, in such a way that discriminatory coverage is sanctionable.

11. [Redacted]

Mr. Clarkson is referring to a scene from The Game of Thrones often called ‘The Walk of Atonement’ which is a direct reference to the punishment handed out to Jane Shore, a mistress of Edward IV in the fifteenth century. Both the author of the series and the creator of the TV show have spoken about the historical associations of this form of punishment and the use of it to shame women and break their pride. Even if it is argued that Mr Clarkson was ignorant of the historical connotations of the scene, it is used in a similar way in the book and TV series and seeks to make the same points about the punishment of powerful women. It is also worth noting that the fictional material in question here – The Game Of Thrones – is noted for sensationalising violence against women and has been regularly criticised for misogyny and sexism.

The Sun have never published to our knowledge an article encouraging or commenting on the stripping on a man naked and throwing excrement on him to shame him.

12. [Redacted]

It is true that manipulation in relationships is not unique to women but what is unique is the negative portrayal of women in popular culture and media with regards to this behaviour, especially in terms of using sex. It is precisely what makes these tropes harmful – that they carry a double standard within them that does not match reality. It is by far largely women who are represented in this way and this representation is often used as a reason to excuse the violence that they may experience. Race is an additional dimension here with black women and women of colour often portrayed as using their sexuality to control white men in powerful positions.

13. [Redacted]

Using sexist, misogynistic and racialised imagery and tropes to critique someone’s behaviour is clearly invoking their sex, gender and race, regardless of intention. A critique of the Duchess’ conduct is very much possible without resorting to examples of gendered violence and racist stereotypes and the fact that this is the language that was used speaks clearly to pervasive attitudes towards women that this article perpetuates.  

14. [Redacted]

There is no evidence to suggest that the judgment being expressed in the article about the actions of the Duchess is ‘objective’. The Duke and Duchess are hugely polarising figures and have support and opposition in equal measure. Regardless of this, our complaint is based on the expression of the criticism – which could easily have been expressed in a way that was about the actual behaviour rather than about gender and racial stereotypes.

Moreover, Mr Clarkson compares his ‘hatred’ of the Duchess to his hatred of other high-profile women – he is obviously talking about women in this article, rather than making judgements about public figures in general. This is highlighted by his treatment of the Duke, which borders on sympathetic – judged to have played no part in the same actions that the Duchess should be publicly humiliated for. His opinion, therefore, is based on his expectations of and judgements about women’s behaviour specifically.

We are also extremely concerned that The Sun believes that any course of conduct or any behaviour can be worthy of the kind of violent imagery and incitement expressed in this article, regardless of who it is expressed against. It is worrying that the country’s largest publication finds it acceptable that gross violence is invoked in judgement of any behaviour.

15. [Redacted]

It is true that vast majority of victims of domestic abuse and coercive control are women and the majority of perpetrators are men. It is precisely that which makes it so dangerous to perpetuate myths about women of colour and to label women as worthy of abuse and violence based on judgements about their actions or behaviour. As we highlight in point 12, it is women’s behaviour that is more commonly judged as manipulative and negatively so than men’s, regardless of the reality of the situation.

16. [Redacted]

The Codebook explains clause 3 “usually” relates to newsgathering, which suggests both that (a) most clause 3 cases are likely to apply to newsgathering and (b) some do not (the implication of “usually” is oftentimes, and specifically, not always).

NGN’s appeal to a court judgement is neither here nor there: part of the role of good regulation is to fill in the gaps in law, and to deal with conduct which is wrong and should be sanctionable, but which rightly doesn’t meet the threshold for more heavy-handed remedies from the Courts.

NGN’s appeal to the IPSO ruling Ambridge v Essex is similarly unhelpful to their case: it states that clause 3 “generally” applies to newsgathering, which has the same meaning as “usually” – i.e. – not always.

This seems to be the only defence NGN are prepared to mount.

The article is harassing of Ms Markle.  It describes the writer’s longing - “dreaming” – of her being attacked in the streets.  That comment was disseminated to up to 7 million members of the public that day, which is The Sun’s daily readership, and many more over the following days.  To broadcast one’s desire to see someone ridiculed and attacked in the street to a large portion of the population is an act of harassment, and IPSO must uphold this complaint.


Violence against women and girls is a pervasive reality that most women encounter during  their lives. In the UK, 75% of women and girls have experienced public sexual harassment in their lifetime, on average a woman is murdered by a man every three days and 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse. Perpetrators often present their victims to be deserving of this violence, pointing to the behaviour of women to justify abusive or extreme behaviour. This article deploys similar victim blaming and it is concerning that The Sun is resorting to the same tactics in order to defend it.

The ideas expressed in this article and the way they have been expressed risk further perpetuating this violence and are indefensible. This has been acknowledged by The Sun themselves, as is evident from their decision to take the article down. It is also a view that is shared by thousands of others who reached out to IPSO and to Fawcett to express their anger and concern. We hope that IPSO will ensure accountability and protect the rights of women and girls, as well as those of the Duchess of Sussex as an individual, by upholding our complaint, which we have made on behalf of our 3000+ members and 17000+ supporters.