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Editor and journalist suspended as weekly apologises over transgender column

Bob BoundsAn editor and journalist on a weekly paper could face disciplinary action over a column on transgender issues which attracted heavy criticism from readers.

Kentish Gazette editor Bob Bounds, left, and reporter Alex Claridge are understood to have been suspended from duties pending an investigation by parent company the KM Group.

The move folllows a piece published in the Gazette’s pseudonymous ‘Harry Bell’ column earlier this month.

The Gazette subsequently apologised for having published the column, admitting that the paper had “got it badly wrong.”

The column, authored by Alex, discussed the case of convict Jessica Winfield, who underwent gender reassignment surgery while in prison after being sentenced in 1995 for a double rape while living as a man named Martin Ponting.

Winfield was reassigned to a women’s prison after the surgery, but last month The Sun reported she had been segregated from the main prison population for making inappropriate advances on other female prisoners, although a report in The Independent has disputed the reasoning for her segregation.

The column, pictured below, went on to mention a “very obvious transperson” living in Canterbury, with ‘Harry Bell’ describing them as a “bloke with a feminine haircut who wears women’s clothing”.

The writer added he had showed a picture of the person to five women, who had “correctly” said they were looking at a photograph of a man.

HarryBell

A statement apologising for the column’s publication appeared in the 12 October edition of the Gazette, while its letters page was given over to comments criticising the piece.

It reads: “The Gazette has come in for heavy criticism over the publication of last week’s Harry Bell column, which included an item about transgender issues.

“When you get things wrong, the best course of action is to hold your hands up and say sorry. Last week’s column did get it wrong – badly wrong.

“We feel it is appropriate to dedicate our letters pages to the many messages we have had criticising the comments contained in the article.

“Harry Bell has never purported to be the Voice of the Gazette, nor to represent the views of anyone other than the author. However, we must take responsibility for providing the platform for such opinions to be aired.

“Over the course of its long history, the Gazette has prided itself on fighting for the community it serves. That includes all those who help make the Canterbury area such a diverse and wonderful place to live.

“Over the coming weeks we will be attempting to rebuild links with those upset by last week’s column and will ensure we learn from our mistake.”

The KM Group has been approached for further comment.

17 comments

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  • October 31, 2017 at 10:57 am
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    I didn’t know that newspapers were no longer supposed to cause controversy. For goodness sake – suspending the editor and a reporter for daring to upset the readers. Tut, tut.
    Admittedly I have not seen the full contents of the story but, as stated, I thought part of a role of a paper was to cause people to think and if that means being controversial so be it.
    Think the management have gone way over the top.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 11:48 am
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    Comment on this? You must be joking. The PC police will knock.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 12:34 pm
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    Out of bounds, Bob!
    God forbid we should publish anything other than the official PC on anything.
    It was a comment piece FFS.
    Bland views only please.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 12:51 pm
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    Gender fluids everywhere, and everyone is offended. It’s getting very messy.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 2:12 pm
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    How can the KM Group contemplate disciplining an editor who’s done his job correctly?

    Purported misjudgements are claimed of any newspaper, and in this instance readers’ opinions were published and so was the editor’s apology. An over-generous apology, I thought.

    KM Group: if a disciplinary really is in the air, get a grip of yourselves and not this editor and reporter. And purely in case you think I’m a nutter, my fabulous staff on Hendon Times Group weeklies won piles of awards 15 years and more back for best London weekly or best UK. Your journalists might bag more now if you stop being Big Brother and let ‘em breathe. And… please don’t have heart attack… hire one or two more.

    Barry Brennan

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  • October 31, 2017 at 2:57 pm
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    I’m very uncomfortable about this. What on earth is wrong in challenging a perceived view and causing people to actually think for once instead of following the knee-jerk crowd?
    The readers reacted (albeit prompted to by a pressure group) and their views were aired. Game over.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 3:13 pm
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    My immediate question is why a newspaper serving its community finds that publishing an opinion piece about someone with (it seems) no local connections is so important. I realise that many people are uneasy with others who don’t fall into their mainstream world view — as shown in the attitudes of some parts of the press towards same-sex relationships, even now. So I hope the Kentish Gazette isn’t simply a product of that mindset.
    Oh, and justifying the article by saying there is a bloke in the town centre who wears women’s clothing but can’t pull it off doesn’t cut it for me. In any case who took this person’s picture for the vox pop and was it with their permission? Hmmm…

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  • October 31, 2017 at 3:35 pm
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    Editor suspended for encouraging the freedom of opinion? Never heard of such a thing!
    Oh, wait…

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  • October 31, 2017 at 5:45 pm
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    Further to my initial comment: It seems to me that the non-editorial management has taken over and downsized the role of an editor. The top layer are too frightened of public opinion instead of standing up for what a newspaper represents – the voice of democracy. Of course an editor and his/her team have to be responsible but senior management must give the editor his/her head. The situation described above would be like the owner of a football club running onto a pitch to disagree with the tactics of his own’s team manager. Pathetic.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 10:04 pm
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    BB and AC are two proper old school journalists, worth their weight in gold to any media organisation who values Real news values and top notch all round journalistic skills, honed over decades. KG has done what it should and more in the circumstances. Now down to KMG to show some respect and stand by two loyal hard grafters, who truly care, doing their job to the best of their considerable abilities in the ever more challenging media world.

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  • November 1, 2017 at 12:34 pm
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    Leaving aside the need for the column going around with a picture (taken with permission?) of a transsexual (or at least a transvestite) and asking women if the person is a man or a woman is incredibly crass. Also, referring to that person as “IT” is offensive for reasons which should not need explaining.

    I take it the “proper old school” can now mean closed-minded Jaded? I’d actually use stronger language but then this would not be published.

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  • November 1, 2017 at 4:45 pm
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    In response to Desker: The column’s use of ‘it’, in the phrase “it’s just a bloke”, seems to be intended merely in the sense of ‘here is’, ‘there is’ or ‘this is a case of’, rather than calling the person ‘it’. But, even if the latter usage were intended, ‘it’ would arguably be a less offensive classification to this female-identifying person than the column’s references to “he” and “a man”.

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  • November 2, 2017 at 8:29 am
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    The pages and online edition of the Gazette series are peppered with illiteracy and ignorance, the perpetrators apparently going unpunished.
    Yet one comment piece, swimming against the modish LGBT tide, is sufficient to put two careers at risk.
    Local journalism may not be dead, but it’s in the old folk’s home.

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  • November 3, 2017 at 11:18 am
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    At least they were semi-forced into an apology and suspended. The piece was tasteless and this paper would be better to include more real news and features about their district. Another case of easy-fill copy against the clock and to be simply and quickly controversial to stir up responses. It obviously worked.

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  • November 3, 2017 at 4:51 pm
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    “Editor and journalist”? Editors *are* journalists. Surely the mots justes are ‘editor and reporter’, as in paragraph 2.

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  • November 4, 2017 at 2:54 pm
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    Does ‘Old School’ know that not only do some men wear dresses, some women wear trousers as well? Is ‘Old School’ also aware of the differences between Transvestite and Transgender? If not perhaps it’s time ‘Old School’ either make way for new writers and editors or went on a training course to update and reset their brains. I’m really disappointed that KM is reduced to a Daily Mail/ Sun style of lascivious sensationalism.

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  • November 6, 2017 at 12:25 pm
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    For goodness sake. Offensive to a specific person, offensive to a group of people, not surprised they were sorry.

    I wonder whether there’s been a history of this kind of thing, hence the suspension. I am not familiar with the KG’s oeuvre but would be very surprised if this of itself prompted suspension.

    Having said that, if they did it to colleague it would be unacceptable harassment in the workplace, so perhaps HR decided the readers deserved the same respect?

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