Some of you may remember that a few months ago I wrote a piece about the comments made by Joe Burchill in The Guardian about her distaste towards the Trans community. Her article was filled with disgusting hate speech and inaccurate views on transgender people. The Observer and the Press Complains Commission were flooded with complaints over the piece and the article was eventually removed from their website.
I myself joined the hundreds of other who filed a complaint about the piece as today I received a response from the Press Complaints Commission regarding their decision regarding the article. Here is the e-mail I received;
Commission’s decision in the case of
Two Complainants v The Observer / The Daily Telegraph
The complainants were concerned about a comment article which responded to criticism of another columnist on social networking sites. The article had first been published by The Observer. Following The Observer’s decision to remove the article from its website, it had been republished on the website of The Daily Telegraph. The Commission received over 800 complaints about the article, which it investigated in correspondence with two lead complainants, one for each newspaper.
The complainants considered that the article contained a number of prejudicial and pejorative references to transgender people in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. They also raised concerns under Clause 1 (Accuracy) that language used by the columnist was inaccurate as well as offensive, and, furthermore that the article misleadingly suggested that the term “cis-gendered” was insulting. Additionally, concerns had been raised that the repeated use of terms of offence had breached Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code.
The Commission first considered the complaints, framed under Clause 12, that the article had contained a number of remarks about transgender people that were pejorative and discriminatory. It noted that the Observer had accepted that these remarks were offensive, and that it had made the decision to remove the article on the basis that the language used fell outside the scope of what it considered reasonable; however, the Observer denied a breach of Clause 12 because the article had not made reference to any specific individual. Clause 12 states that newspapers “must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability”. However, the clause does not cover references to groups or categories of people. The language used in the article did not refer to any identifiable individual, but to transgender people generally. While the Commission acknowledged the depth of the complainants’ concerns about the terminology used, in the absence of reference to a particular individual, there was no breach of Clause 12.
The Commission also considered the complaint under the terms of Clause 1, which states that “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures”. Complainants had suggested that the terms used in the article to refer to transgender people were inaccurate or misleading. Whilst the Commission acknowledged this concern, it was clear from the tone of the article that these terms were being used to express an opinion. Whilst many people had found this opinion deeply distasteful and upsetting, the columnist was entitled to express her views under the terms of Clause 1(iii), so long as the statements were clearly distinguished from fact. The same was true in relation to the columnist’s assertion that the term “cis-gendered” is offensive. Viewed in the context of the article as a whole, particularly in light of the fact that the article had been deliberately identified as a comment piece, this was clearly distinguishable as an expression of her opinion about the term rather than a statement of fact about how it is perceived more broadly. This did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, for the purposes of Clause 1(i), and neither was there any significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). There was no breach of Clause 1.
The Commission turned to consider those concerns raised under Clause 4, which states that “journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit”. It made clear, however, that the publication of a single comment piece was not conduct which would engage the terms of Clause 4. There was no breach of the Code.
The Commission acknowledged that the complainants found much of the article offensive. Nonetheless, the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence. The Code is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as privacy. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that the rights of individuals – enshrined in the terms of the Code which specifically defines and protects these rights – are not compromised. It could not, therefore, comment on this aspect of the complaint further.
Now I might have misunderstood what was written here, but it seems to me that the Press Complaints Commission has turned around and said that ‘yes it is filled with hate speech, but because it’s directed at a group rather than an individual and it’s the authors own opinion then its okay.’
I just cannot help but find this decision baffling. How is what was written not considered to have breached the clauses stated in the email? Is it okay to be bigoted and hateful if it’s a general hatred?
I find myself wondering if they have found these apparent ‘loop-holes’ if the comments in the article had been made about people of a different ethnicity or religion of the author. Do you think they would have given the same response if it was a hate piece about an ethnic group? I doubt it.
This looks to me like yet another case of trans people being ignored, of people thinking that it’s okay for trans people to be mocked and hated because in their minds we’re not a legitimate group of people, that we’re trans because of a lifestyle choice rather than because it’s something that we have no control over.
It’s disgusting that the Trans community is still treated this way, that our views and opinions are just considered a joke. I have never had very much faith in the press and this whole sorry affair has given me even less. I am truly disappointed and sickened by this result.
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