Media regulation

Impress has a consultation on its Code of Standards for British newspapers. Does this give a chance to reduce transphobia in the media?

Impress has a Royal Charter, and therefore is officially recognised as a press regulator. This was backed by the National Union of Journalists and Hacked Off, a campaign group against press intrusion. However it is rejected by the national press and major regional newspapers, who use the Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO, instead. Nevertheless Impress’s code may influence what is considered wrongful in journalism, so it may be worth responding.

Clause 4, on discrimination, is relevant. Other clauses do not refer to particular groups.

4.1. Publishers must not make prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person on the basis of that person’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that person vulnerable to discrimination.

4.2. Publishers must not refer to a person’s disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, pregnancy, race, religion or sexual orientation unless this characteristic is relevant to the story.

IPSO’s code mirrors 4.1 and 4.2, but has no equivalent for 4.3. 4.1 and 2 allow people to complain about mistreatment of individuals.

4.3. Publishers must not incite hatred against any group on the basis of that group’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that group vulnerable to discrimination.

Publishers who do not accept Impress’s code freely incite contempt, mockery and disgust for trans people, claiming we are dangerous to women. Contempt and disgust lead to violence, just as hatred does.

The current guidance on 4.3 says it should be interpreted narrowly.

Language that qualifies as hate speech is that which is intended to, or is likely to, provoke hatred or to put a person or group in fear. The disputed words, therefore, must be more than provocative, offensive, hurtful or objectionable: this provision is about hate speech, not speech that merely hurts feelings. It includes, but is not limited to, speech that is likely to cause others to commit acts of violence against members of the group or discriminate against them… It is intended to allow for freedom to engage in even the fiercest attacks upon and criticisms of the political views and beliefs of others.

When applying this provision to non-racial groups, and especially to those groups who are not covered by existing UK hate speech laws, IMPRESS will interpret it narrowly and cautiously and with a strong presumption in favour of freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is the priority. Under the continual prejudice we face, a lot of press comment, mocking jokes, whatever, is likely to put us in fear, but if each instance is judged by itself most will not meet that threshold. Statements that cis women need “single-sex spaces” incite hatred against trans women, but are designed to appear innocuous.

Impress also says about religion,

beliefs or practices may be subject to the fiercest criticisms, insults or ridicule. It is people who are protected by this clause, not religion itself.

Transphobes would argue transition is akin to a “belief or practice”.

Impress seeks evidence:

Whether Clause 4 of the Code is fit for purpose, and adequately reflects how discrimination is experienced by those with protected characteristics, particularly in an online context. Specifically whether the discrimination standard adequately addresses the degree, manner, and extent to which journalism practices impact on discrimination in society and whether they sufficiently reflect the relationship between discrimination and other clauses of the Code such as accuracy, privacy, and harassment.

Complaints are generally about individual articles, and individually many articles don’t meet the criteria. The Mail’s article on Redvers Buller could not possibly breach this code, even if the Mail accepted it. It’s just one more sneering reference to nonbinary.

The cumulative effect of such derision is to increase my fear. It’s not just one article, it’s a daily barrage of derision and contempt. Anything which makes a trans woman look bad might get reported, even if it would obviously not be newsworthy if about a cis person. We don’t need the code to deal with individual stories, most of which are not clearly enough hateful to be censured. We need the code to deal with publishers on their whole content, all the sneering and mockery. Viewed together, each mocking aside mounts up to deliberate hate.

Evidence of the levels of hatred in society, the constant derision and loathing from the press, and the effect this has on trans people, could be relevant, but would need to be particularly strong and detailed. Each individual story in the Mail or Times comes nowhere near hate speech. The cumulative effect is to incite hatred and contempt.

This page explains how to give evidence. The closing date is 30 January.

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