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.

Reading, writing, feeling, living

I have just read a wonderful article, in which a woman tells of her upbringing, and mingles it with an account of a theatre director. She lived the first twelve years of her life in the US, and then her parents took her home to Japan, where she was educated in Japanese and English, with the aim of being fully at home in both cultures, but loyal to Japan. Her title Let them misunderstand is a quote from Yukio Ninagawa, who directed Shakespeare in Japanese.

“The British will often say something like, ‘Oh, we sense pathos in the falling petals of your cherry blossom trees,’ and I would think: that has nothing to do with it. But I’ve come to say, eh, let them think that. Let them misunderstand.”

Well, if you see change as loss, you will see pathos- beautiful blossom falls. If you see change as progress, or as cyclical, you won’t. Before the Hokusai exhibition, I learned I should read his pictures right to left, rather than left to right as I habitually did with European landscape-oriented paintings. It changes the way you see them.

Speaking to this Japanese woman, often, “a white man starts offering their humble, lengthy thoughts on Kurosawa” rather than asking to hear her expertise. Whole articles could be written around such experiences, but here it is just one sentence, which introduces Ninagawa. There are so many points like that in Moeko Fujii’s article- alien to me, beautifully expressed, making me stop and savour them.

I will not subscribe to The Point magazine because the other two free articles I read, though interesting enough, did not come close. Rather, I read the New York Times and The Guardian. Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof wrote of Covid in America, and Andrew Rawnsley wrote of the US/UK relationship. Both are good articles, bringing details together, and both writers know things I hadn’t: in October 2019 Joe Biden tweeted, “We are not prepared for a pandemic”. Rawnsley writes of an international conference of foreign policy experts. But what I take away from them adds little to what I knew or thought before- the US Covid response was disastrous, Johnson is ideologically offensive to and ridiculously unprepared for a Biden presidency, though Kristof also quotes a facebook shared conspiracy theory that would, if believed, make Trump’s supporters more resolute to work for him.

I am worried for the world about 3 November.

Medics for social security might say my concentration was fine, because I could read Rawnsley’s, and even Fujii’s, article through. I am concerned, though, that I spend much of my time scrolling facebook, and I don’t think reading Guardian or NYT op-eds is much better for me. The NYT has a wider political range, but both, in general, go into detail on things I know already. I have, though I don’t live there, read many Covid in America articles, where the mistakes are similar to those here.

I feel the articles raise in me the same narrow range of feelings every time- concern, anger, irritation, contempt. They distance me from my own experience. Events in the wider world affect me, but I do not learn of them, particularly, from any one article. There is a much wider range of emotion in me, much of which I have not named. I could read Stalingrad, and resonate with a great deal more human experience, but do not: instead, I keep returning to a few websites.

Rawnsley’s contempt for the Prime Minister shows through, and encourages my own. It is a paradox: contempt makes one turn away, and pay less attention, but here I return again and again, to contempt for the same con-man vandal. It does not increase my power. It may enervate me further- “The Struggle Naught Availeth!” I think, miserably.

Feeling those conventional feelings in tune with articles is addictive. So is commenting- the more contempt for the government in a Guardian comment, the more upvotes it gets, the more attention.

I want to know why people think what they think, and Anne Applebaum’s article gives another piece of the puzzle. Allegations don’t have to make sense, they just have to be what the audience wants to believe. That would mean the utterly amoral liar has an advantage over the truth-teller (or at least, the normal politician who stretches the truth sometimes) and I hope that is not true.

Even reading The Guardian, I can take away a misleading impression. Why are so few rapes successfully prosecuted? Guardian articles had a brilliant example of phrasemaking, the “digital stripsearch”, where the police take the victim’s phone, download its contents, and disclose them to the defence. Who could bear that? Yet when I spread this falsehood on facebook, quoting the memorable phrase and falsely explaining it, a barrister friend said it was far more nuanced, of what the police would record and the prosecution disclose. The phrasemaking gave me a false impression, and heightened my resentment, and probably the definiteness of my false opinion.

When I tried to tell the story to call people to calm and an appreciation of nuance, it was taken the other way. The phrase “digital stripsearch” stuck in people’s heads, and they had the false view I had sought to show was so easily taken, and so wrong.

Someone spoke appreciation of me, and I was overjoyed: literally, unable to control my expression of delight. I want to control it, of course. Someone else found me on a zoom group, and asked if she could stay at my house. I don’t believe her family would kill her if she returned to Italy. I have met fantasists and think she is one. She has no money and no way of getting any, she said, and indeed she may not be able to claim benefits.

To live normally in this society, one sticks with that narrow range of feeling, and to conventional feeling, which society deems appropriate in any particular situation. That is unbearable to me. I want to feel my own feelings, name them, know them, use them as a guide to what is going on around me.

1929.6.87 004

Maya Forstater

I have a philosophical belief that Maya Forstater is a transphobe. Her employment ceased because of her transphobia, and the Employment Tribunal has found against her enraged, entitled challenge to her dismissal. Like all “gender-critical” transphobes she thinks of herself as a martyr, but she was sacked, rightly, for being willing to humiliate and disregard others unfortunate enough to encounter her. [Update: her appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal commences on 27 April 2021, and as soon as the judgment is published I will explain it here.]

Forstater believes that no-one can change sex, and that trans women are men. The judge questioned what she thought of disorders of sexual development, and found she accepts they exist, but believes everyone, even those with such disorders, has one sex or the other (para 41). The judge questioned whether such a belief could be described as “scientific”, as she does, but decided that the belief was sufficiently coherent to qualify as a belief, even if it is wrong (para 83).

Forstater claimed (para 78) that her belief that trans women are men was important because it was necessary to support her sense of self. That is the transphobia. Rather than seeing a trans woman in women’s space and accepting that’s probably OK, lawful, and completely unthreatening to anyone, she starts to feel her sense of self threatened. She wants to object, and possibly she wants the trans woman excluded.

This is illustrated by her dispute with Gregor Murray, a non-binary person, who complained about her to the Scout Association. She had referred to them with the pronoun “he” in a tweet (paras 35 and 89). It is not clear from the judgment what happened before the complaint, but responding to the complaint she said, I reserve the right to use the pronouns “he” and “him” to refer to male people. While I may choose to use alternative pronouns as a courtesy, no one has the right to compel others to make statements they do not believe.

The judge decided, para 90, I conclude from this, and the totality of the evidence, that the Claimant is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.

This is the basis of his decision. Forstater is entitled to hold her belief, to state it, and even to act on the basis of it in many situations: not all harassment is unlawful. But she was claiming in tribunal that this was a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act, and that she had a right not to lose her job because of her belief. The judge has decided that her belief fits all the criteria for protected beliefs (para 50) except the last: it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. She might even have a claim of indirect discrimination- she asserted women are more likely to hold such beliefs, and that claim was not part of this preliminary hearing. There are other issues between the parties and the case may continue. The only decision is that her belief that trans women are men is not protected under the Equality Act.

She “believes” that she can call me a man and I have no right to object. If she had a right to act on that belief in all circumstances, my right to not be harassed would be worthless. The judge says (para 87) It is obvious how important being accorded their preferred pronouns and being able to describe their gender is to many trans people. Calling a trans woman a man is likely to be profoundly distressing. It may be unlawful harassment. Even paying due regard to the qualified right to freedom of expression, people cannot expect to be protected if their core belief involves violating others dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

I say if a trans woman is distressed by being called “he” she should grow a pair, or perhaps, “grow them back”. Some people will take any opportunity to distress you once they see they can do so that easily. Then again, perhaps I could distress Maya: I would look her in the eye and say, calmly, “I am a woman”; and her brain would explode as her “sense of self” disintegrated.

She stated there was an opposite belief which people held which she thought was wrong (para 5); Some people believe that everyone has an inner “gender”, which may be the same as or different to their sex at birth, and that gender effectively trumps sex, so that “trans men are men” and “trans women are women”. Typically such proponents believe that that “trans women are women” from the moment they identify as women (if not before). That’s not what I believe. I believe culture enforces gender roles and stereotypes from birth, and that because culture limits the way people who don’t fit those stereotypes can act, some people transition. It’s not necessary to believe anything to treat a trans woman with respect, and using the wrong pronouns deliberately can be harassment.

To me it is entirely reasonable not to renew someone’s contract because you reasonably fear she might harass, disrespect, or even distress a client. The Daily Mail exaggerated to the point of lying: Britons have no right to ask whether a transgender person is male or female, said their headline. Their first sentence was gibberish: A landmark ruling (No, an employment tribunal, not even an employment appeal tribunal) has found that there is no right to question whether a transgender person is a man or a woman. There is a right, it is just limited under certain circumstances, as your right to swing your fist ends in my personal space. You can assert I am a man, but there are situations when that is objectionable.

The Mail journalist, not understanding, even manages to say something Ms Forstater might find offensive: If the employment judge had sided with Miss Forstater, firms would have been barred from sacking staff if they expressed the belief that there are only two genders, even if some people found that offensive. The anti-trans campaigners have to educate even their allies on the difference between sex and gender.

The Telegraph got the law mostly right, but devoted paragraphs to expressing Ms Forstater’s anger and distress. So did the Guardian. That will give some readers the required dopamine hit of anger against trans people.

The Guardian quoted Index on Censorship, which supported Ms Forstater’s claim: From what I have read of [Forstater’s] writing, I cannot see that Maya has done anything wrong other than express an opinion that many feminists share – that there should be a public and open debate about the distinction between sex and gender. That is arguable. It points up how narrow the judgment is. It has not even decided that the termination was reasonable and lawful, only that her argument that it was unlawful because her belief was protected has failed. In the emotional atmosphere, few supporters of Forstater will see this nice distinction.

JK Rowling tweeted, Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?

That is the misunderstanding the phobes will push. Getting the truth out to barely interested parties will be difficult. Some, er, trans-critical-curious people may be radicalised by this lie. The row about Rowling being transphobic, now reported in the Guardian, only increases the exposure of Forstater. Whether Forstater had won or lost this case, the reporting would have been a disaster.

Here is the judgment.

The Centre for Global Development, the Respondent in Forstater’s claim, has made statements about the case.

15 November: the hearing begins.

18 December: CGD and CGDE pride themselves as workplaces that support and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in both policy and practice. We have always disputed the claimant’s allegations, and are grateful Judge Tayler has ruled in our favor regarding this particular matter. We look forward to continuing to make our case in the Tribunal as the Claimant’s employment status is considered next month.

Employment status affects what rights Forstater has and what action she might win in an employment tribunal. It’s the difference between a “contract of service” and a “contract for services”- it’s quite technical. CGD and CGDE maintain that Ms. Forstater does not have the necessary employment status to pursue these claims as she was an unpaid visiting fellow and occasional paid consultant.

3 January 2020. Another decision on protected beliefs: Casamitjana v The League against cruel sports. A short summary judgment found ethical veganism, which is not solely about eating but also about using animal products or products tested on animals. The LACS did not contest the point, and a short summary judgment was issued confirming ethical veganism is a protected belief. I could not find it today on BAILII or the Gov.UK ET decisions site.

Karen White

Karen White is a rapist who was placed in a women’s prison, New Hall, where she sexually assaulted two prisoners and allegedly also sexually assaulted two others. She is now in a men’s prison. She pleaded guilty to a rape which took place in 2003, though she insisted she was not attracted to women and suffered from erectile dysfunction. She had previously pleaded guilty to a rape in 2016. Further counts of rape against the 2016 victim will lie on file, as will the two sexual assault charges in prison.

These are the facts, available from the Daily Mirror. Two rapes, two sexual assaults while in a women’s prison. She awaits sentencing while reports are made on whether she is a danger. “Danger” must be relative, she sounds dangerous to me. But the thing I have in common with her- having adopted a female name and female expression- should not be used to judge me.

That’s obvious, you would think. Not to Times readers. “A rapist and paedophile who was transferred to a women’s prison and assaulted four inmates there” it begins. No, assaulted two, allegedly assaulted two. One sexual assault of a vulnerable woman is appalling, but the Times wants to make the trans woman look worse than the law says she is.

This is irrelevant to the consultation on gender recognition. I am not a danger to women. But The Times, a propaganda sheet owned by Rupert Murdoch, wants to create a connection in readers’ minds: its third paragraph reads, “The Government is holding consultations on proposals to allow people to ‘self-declare’ their legal gender. Campaigners fear that opportunists will exploit the changes to gain access to protected female spaces.”

It quotes neighbours saying White was not trans, did not attend gender identity clinic appointments, wore a wig but did not seek hormone treatment. That’s all right, then. Trans women should not be judged by comparison to criminals pretending to be trans. But the Times did not accept that obvious distinction, and published an article headlined Trans rapists are a danger in women’s jails. It says, “It never happens,” women were told when they worried that losing sex-segregated private spaces might allow attacks by predatory men… it happens.. no fox has a right to live in the henhouse, even if he identifies as a hen.

The Daily Mail article is prurient and vile, but its attack is on prison policy: Sickening proof our prisons have finally lost the plot, screamed the headline. Politically correct and incompetent, rather than privatised, underfunded, violent and unfit for human habitation, as you would learn if your news intake included reports about official inspections of prisons. It quotes a Prison Service Instruction: Transgender offenders must be asked their view of the part of the prison estate (male or female) that reflects the gender with which they identify. That’s the fourth sentence of the article, as if the prisoner’s desire were the only criterion. It goes on to explain that a transgender case board of prison managers and psychologists decides where to place the prisoner, and considers risk factors- but that is a long scroll down through a long article, in which we learn White claimed disability benefits, another bugbear of the Mail.

The Sun, another Murdoch rag, gave White’s former name and said White was sent to a women’s prison “despite not having gender reassignment surgery”. Penises are so fascinating to that kind of journalist. The Telegraph also comments she had not had GRS, and says she “told the authorities she identified as a woman and was remanded into [a woman’s prison]” as if it were that simple. “But within days White made sexual advances to another inmate”. The Telegraph considers the details of the sexual assaults and alleged assaults newsworthy.

And finally, The Spectator. Yes, it’s James Kirkup again. “Politics has failed,” he exclaimed, melodramatically. David Top Cat Davies MP put down an urgent question for a minister about the assaults, but the Speaker rejected his request. The Question would call a minister to parliament, disrupting the minister’s day, so should not be granted willy nilly. There is clearly room for judgment. Only about thirty are granted a year, far more than by previous Speakers. The story of transgender policy is a story of political failure, where many people fail to do their job and speak openly about matters of clear public interest, Kirkup emoted. Repulsive, a disgusting abdication of responsibility that brings shame on [The Speaker] and his office… There is at least one male born rapist in a women’s prison today. Presumably that prisoner is safe, or there would be more publicity about it.

I find rape abominable. Most trans women would. Karen White sounds a revolting individual. But her crimes have almost no relevance to the human rights of trans people. These hard-right publications emphasise them to reduce my rights.

Added 11 October: she was sentenced to 8½ years’ imprisonment. The prosecutor described her as an “alleged transgender female”, but the “court was told” that she had begun gender reassignment treatment. She is in HMP Leeds, a male prison, and as a child molester will be segregated. She regularly uses a wheelchair.

The most transphobic article I have seen was in the Daily Express on 13 October. Headlined “This transgender madness is now a danger to women”, it started with an account of Karen White, using her male name, which it says [offensive, so whited out: highlight to read] highlights the danger of allowing men to use gender self-identification as a means to pursue their perverted acts.

… It makes you wonder what it takes for a monster like this to be treated as a very dangerous person… but of course he has “rights”… the problem is that while accepting that society should be more tolerant to transgender people, the pendulum has swung too far in their favour.

We should not allow the bullying of a vociferous minority to drown out the legitimate concerns of women who fear that safe spaces reserved for them will be invaded by men posing as women for sinister motives. Some women protesters have been physically attacked by transgender campaigners.
It should not just be a case of donning a wig and giving yourself a female name. We all deserve more respect than that.

Good news

Angel in GreenThis is a security announcement. You are under the threat of imminent death from terrorist attack. It is your duty to report anything suspicious to the armed police who patrol this station for your safety. If you stray more than two feet from your handbag it will be subjected to a controlled explosion. Mind the gap between the train and the platform. Because of bad weather we are providing a reduced service today: you are advised to check our website before travelling. [Not the most useful announcement in a station.] And may God have mercy on you all.

A series of IT disasters and other fiascos have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. The UN calls the Conservative government racist, and the Tories call the UN hysterical. Terrorists are coming into the UK through the Common Travel Area with Ireland. Nick Clegg, asked how he wins people over in debates, said I always try to keep a good sense of humour, and if I have an argument with someone, to keep the argument about what the argument is about and not allow it too often to become sort of personal. I make one exception, for a man named Ed Balls”: the headline is Clegg v Balls: it’s personal. Not, oddly, Clegg prefers to keep debate to the Issues.

The Times is the paper of record, neutral between the main parties: stories are matched, Mr Miliband’s incompetence and Mr Cameron’s uselessness. Disaster stalks the country: Gatwick investigation after ‘Third World’ chaos.

What of this? The National Grid pays “constraint payments” when it does not buy electricity from particular suppliers. Power demand is subject to peaks and troughs, and so generating capacity has to be on call: where it is not used, suppliers are compensated. This is the kind of technical information which would make me nod wisely and pass to the next thought: I don’t want great detail. But The Times reports this as a “huge bill to leave turbines idle”. It is a “record” amount because there is an increasing number of those beautiful, majestic wind turbines. Tory Peter Lilley calls it “taking money from the pockets of poor people to subsidise rich landowners”. Beware Tories speaking up for the poor against the rich: his real target is green energy. The Times starts with the Anger at the Waste, and only at the bottom of the column is the allusion to balancing costs, which I have supplemented here from my own knowledge.

The Opinion pages have a Christmassy article- the irrelevance of the Church of England- and how the Tories pardon Alan Turing in order to appear Modern even though they have jettisoned their green policies and incite hatred against Benefit Scroungers and Immigrants. They criticise negativity while indulging in it- as do I.