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LABOUR’S EMILY BROTHERS WELCOMES THE SUN NEWSPAPER CENSURING BY PRESS REGULATOR

THURSDAY 28 MAY 2015

 

Labour’s blind and transgender Parliamentary Candidate in the recent General Election, Emily Brothers was ‘belittled’ by Rod Liddle’s Column in The Sun on 11/12/15 due to ‘her gender identity and her disability, mocking her for no other reason than these perceived “differences’ ruled the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO today. The press regulator said:
‘Regardless of the columnist’s intentions, this was not a matter of taste; it was discriminatory and unacceptable under the Code.’
Standing for Labour in Sutton and Cheam, in South West London where she increased Labour’s vote by 4.3%, Ms Brothers ‘came out to Pink News on 09/12/15 as Labour’s first transgender Parliamentary Candidate. Taking the initiative to set out her personal story, Ms Brothers’ decision received widespread acclaim from across the media, strong backing from her Leader, Ed Miliband and support from political opponents.
However, a column by Rod Liddle which appeared in The Sun on 11/12/15 asked: ‘being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex?’
Ms Brothers hit back the following day in The Independent by asking Mr Liddle ‘When he turns the lights out, does he not realise he is a man?’
Hundreds of complaints were received by IPSO, resulting in their adjudication on the representative complaint from Trans Media Watch, acting with the consent of Emily Brothers, that The Sun had discriminated against Ms Brothers and breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by publishing a prejudicial and pejorative reference to her disability and gender.
A social media storm followed and an online Change Petition critical of The Sun and its Columnist received 28,261 supporters.
Whilst recovering from Triple Heart Bypass Surgery conducted last week, Ms Brothers commented on IPSO’s adjudication:
“I welcome IPSO’s finding that the comment piece by Rod Liddle in the Sun was wrong, upholding the case that the mocking of my gender identity and disability was prejudicial and pejorative.
“I’m pleased that IPSO have supported our claim. That is certainly a success, as newspapers should now be clear that they don’t have free-reign to show contempt for people who are different in some way, by using pejorative or prejudicial language.
“This is a landmark decision, as I believe it is the first representative complaint to be upheld by IPSO and will hopefully pave the way for more shared action.
“I’m disappointed that The Sun did not constructively engage in seeking a resolution to what transpired. Instead, the Sun tried to undermine me in a personal way and attacked the work of Trans Media Watch. In many ways that failure is more worrying than the original insult.
“That’s why I think IPSO’s decision falls short. They have only required the publication of their adjudication as a remedy, not a full and proper apology from The Sun.
“In the absence of an apology without bitterness on the Part of Mr Liddle and his rag of a paper, I can only conclude they do not regret their actions. That isn’t encouraging for the future, as others may well experience similar treatment just because they are different.
“I understand that Leveson said that the regulator must have the power to require apologies. IPSO has been set up without that power, so it is toothless. It is as a result of this that the Sun can get away with not printing any apology. Consequently, there is no real deterrence on newspapers to avoid breaching the Editor’s Code.
“I decided not to pursue a personal complaint simply because I expect nothing else from The Sun’s content, preferring to endorse a representative case. I needed to focus on Labour’s campaign and my recent health problems, resulting in Triple Heart Bypass surgery last week.
“Politicians need to take the knocks, so I’ve been able to dismiss Rod Liddle’s comment piece as ridiculous. My central concern is how other transgender people and their families feel about these comments, particularly those who are going through the transitioning process and are fearful of other people’s reactions and fearful of being ridiculed.
“I would like to thank Trans Media Watch, dozens of organisations and thousands of people who have given me support. They have done so because of our shared believe that injustice should be challenged. The commitment of volunteers, like Helen Belcher and Jennie Kermode of Trans Media Watch, underline the value of representative groups in defending our shared values.
“I believe strongly in press freedom. It should hold the rich and powerful to account, not mock and undermine the vulnerable and disadvantaged. That’s why I support equality campaigners who want to see more effective press regulation to ensure papers show sensitivity. By remedy, IPSO need to have the power to require an apology. We want respect and to stop the mocking.”
The decision of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) was published at https://www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/rulings/IPSOrulings-detail.html?id=131 on 28/05/15 with the Key Findings stating:
Following a column published in The Sun on 11 December 2014, Trans Media Watch, acting with the consent of Emily Brothers, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun had discriminated against Ms Brothers and breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by publishing a prejudicial and pejorative reference to her disability and gender. IPSO established a breach of the Code and required The Sun to publish this decision as a remedy.
Noting that Emily Brothers, who is blind and transgender, was standing for election as an MP, the columnist asked “being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex”.
The complainant said the comment made the discriminatory suggestion that there were limitations to the understanding blind people could have of themselves and called into question Ms Brothers’ gender identity.
The newspaper accepted that the comment was tasteless, but denied that it was prejudicial or pejorative.
It did not accept that the columnist had criticised Ms Brothers or suggested anything negative or stereotypical about her blindness or gender identity; rather, it had been a clumsy attempt at humour.
Nonetheless, it regretted any distress the article had caused Ms Brothers, and published an apology by the columnist.
It outlined changes it had made to its editorial processes in response to the complaint.
IPSO’s Complaints Committee ruled that the column belittled Ms Brothers, her gender identity and her disability, mocking her for no other reason than these perceived “differences”.
Regardless of the columnist’s intentions, this was not a matter of taste; it was discriminatory and unacceptable under the Code.
The apology published by the newspaper did not remedy this breach of the Code, and IPSO therefore upheld the complaint.
Trans Media Watch is a registered charity which works with the UK media to improve the treatment of trans and intersex people so that they are represented with accuracy, dignity and respect. Find out more: http://www.transmediawatch.org
  

INDEPENDENT PRESS STANDARDS ORGANISATION (IPSO)

THURSDAY 28 MAY 2015

 

https://www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/rulings/IPSOrulings-detail.html?id=131

IPSO Ruling - Decision of the Complaints Committee (00572-15 Trans Media Watch v The Sun)

1. Trans Media Watch, acting with the consent of Emily Brothers, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun had breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in columns published on 11 December 2014 and 15 January 2015.

2. Trans Media Watch complained as a representative group affected by the alleged breach of the Code.

3. The 11 December column reported that Emily Brothers was standing for election as an MP in the following terms:
Emily Brothers is hoping to become Labour’s first blind transgendered MP. She’ll be standing at the next election in the constituency of Sutton and Cheam. Thing is though: being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex?

4. The complainant said the comment suggested that there were limitations to the understanding blind people could have of themselves and called into question Ms Brothers’ gender identity; it was therefore a pejorative and prejudicial reference to her disability and gender.

5. The newspaper accepted that the comment was tasteless, but denied that it was prejudicial or pejorative. It did not accept that the columnist had criticised Ms Brothers or suggested anything negative or stereotypical about her blindness or gender identity; rather, it had been a clumsy attempt to seek humour regarding the existence of those conditions.

6. Nonetheless, it said it regretted any distress the article had caused her. Following publication of the article, it issued an apology from the columnist. It also offered her a column – without restrictions – in which to respond; this was published on 15 December 2014. The Editor also asked Mr Liddle to apologise in print and the following apology was published in his 15 January 2015 column and online:
I made a poor joke in bad taste in this column a few weeks back. Well, ok, I suppose I do that every week. But this one was particularly lame…a poor joke by any standards even, even if it wasn’t meant maliciously. So I apologised to Ms Brothers and said that if I lived in Sutton, where she’s standing, I’d vote for her. And I apologise to her again now, in this column. I’d also like to add that having found out more about her I wouldn’t vote for her even if she was standing against Nick Clegg, George Galloway and [Firstname] Ole Ole Biscuit Barrel from the Silly Party.

7. The newspaper reviewed its editorial processes in response to the complaint and instituted a new policy that all copy relating to transgender matters would be approved by its managing editor before publication. The issues raised by the columnist’s remark had been incorporated into training sessions.

8. The newspaper argued that any breach of the Code had been remedied by these measures, and that it would be disproportionate for IPSO to uphold the complaint.

9. The complainant denied that the apology published was adequate. It had been made on behalf of the columnist, not the newspaper, and did not include acceptance that the Code had been breached.

10. The complainant also said that the wording of the apology had deliberately included reference to Ms Brothers’ former name, by incorrectly reproducing the name of a candidate from a Monty Python sketch; instead of “Tarquin” Ole Ole Biscuit Barrel from the Silly Party, Ms Brothers’ former name had been used. The complainant said that it was vanishingly unlikely that this was a genuine coincidence and as such argued it was a deliberate attempt to humiliate Ms Brothers. It represented a further breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code.

11. The newspaper denied that the reference had been deliberate. It said that it had received an adamant assurance from the columnist that he had not known Ms Brothers’ former name prior to the complaint being made; neither had anybody else at the newspaper. The newspaper said it was unable to find any reference to Ms Brothers’ name online, and the columnist had referenced the sketch – originally aired in 1970 – without checking it, because he did not believe it was necessary to do so. It was a silly name, plucked from a faulty memory. Having become aware of the concern, the newspaper amended the reference to read “Tarquin Ole Ole Biscuit Barrel of the Silly Party” online.

Relevant Code Provisions

12. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press 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.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

Findings of the Committee

13. The first column’s crude suggestion that Ms Brothers could only have become aware of her gender by seeing its physical manifestations was plainly wrong. It belittled Ms Brothers, her gender identity and her disability, mocking her for no reason other than these perceived “differences” The comment did not contain any specific pejorative term, but its meaning was pejorative in relation to characteristics specifically protected by Clause 12.

14. Regardless of the columnist’s intentions, this was not a matter of taste; it was discriminatory and therefore unacceptable under the terms of the Code.

15. The Committee welcomed steps the newspaper had previously taken to engage with members of the transgender community in an effort to improve editorial standards and the steps it had taken in response to the complaint, particularly the change in policy it had introduced to ensure more effective oversight of material relating to transgender issues. Nonetheless, the complainant was clearly entitled – particularly where the newspaper had denied any breach of the Editors’ Code – to ask the Committee to adjudicate on the matter and record its finding that the publication failed to comply with its obligations under the Code.

16. The Committee did not accept that the apology published was a genuine attempt to remedy the breach or a sincere expression of regret; the columnist had used it as an opportunity for a further attempt at humour at Ms Brothers’ expense. However, the Committee was not satisfied that it had sufficient evidence to conclude that the inclusion of Ms Brothers’ former first name, which was not uncommon, in the apology, was deliberate. The further complaints under Clause 12 and Clause 3 on this point were not upheld.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Code are met.

19. The Committee required the newspaper to publish the Committee’s ruling upholding the complaint. The adjudication should be published in full on the same page as the column in a forthcoming edition, and on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the adjudication published on its homepage for a period of no less than 48 hours. The headline should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, and refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed in advance.

20. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows:

Following a column published in The Sun on 11 December 2014, Trans Media Watch, acting with the consent of Emily Brothers, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun had discriminated against Ms Brothers and breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by publishing a prejudicial and pejorative reference to her disability and gender.

IPSO established a breach of the Code and required The Sun to publish this decision as a remedy.

Noting that Emily Brothers, who is blind and transgender, was standing for election as an MP, the columnist asked “being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex”.

The complainant said the comment made the discriminatory suggestion that there were limitations to the understanding blind people could have of themselves and called into question Ms Brothers’ gender identity.

The newspaper accepted that the comment was tasteless, but denied that it was prejudicial or pejorative. It did not accept that the columnist had criticised Ms Brothers or suggested anything negative or stereotypical about her blindness or gender identity; rather, it had been a clumsy attempt at humour.

Nonetheless, it regretted any distress the article had caused Ms Brothers, and published an apology by the columnist. It outlined changes it had made to its editorial processes in response to the complaint.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee ruled that the column belittled Ms Brothers, her gender identity and her disability, mocking her for no other reason than these perceived “differences”. Regardless of the columnist’s intentions, this was not a matter of taste; it was discriminatory and unacceptable under the Code.

The apology published by the newspaper did not remedy this breach of the Code, and IPSO therefore upheld the complaint.

Date complaint received: 05/02/2015
Date decision issued: 05/05/2015

 

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