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Watchdog raps news site over ‘transphobic abuse’ claim

NewIPSOA news website has been rapped by the press watchdog for reporting as fact that a women’s rights group had engaged in “transphobic abuse”.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint by Nicola Williams, on behalf of Fair Play for Women, against Kent Live.

The site had run a story which reported that a transgender cricketer’s “impressive club appearances have been clouded by transphobic abuse from the group Fair Play for Women”.

But the site did not describe what the alleged abuse had consisted of, and IPSO found this omission to be significantly misleading.

Fair Play for Women denied it had “abused” the cricketer, but had merely commented on whether biological males who identified as women should be eligible to play in women’s cricket teams.

The organisation said that the term “transphobic” meant having an irrational fear of transpeople, which was not the case, while the “abuse” referenced in the story consisted of Twitter posts in which Fair Play for Women had referred to the cricketer as “male”, discussed their biology, physical body and legal status.

It said a person’s gender identity had no impact on their sporting ability, whereas their physical body and sex did, claiming the tweets raised a genuine concern and a subject for debate.

The organisation added Kent Live did not describe the alleged “abuse” and that the story carried an insinuation that Fair Play for Women may have committed a crime or that the abuse was conduct more serious than tweeting.

Denying a breach of Code, Kent Live said it had offered to delete the sentence in the story that referred to Fair Play for Women as a gesture of goodwill upon receipt of the complaint, as well as to add a clarification to set out the group’s position.

An agreement could not be reached and a clarification was not published because the group wanted an op-ed rather than a clarification, but Kent Live resolved to delete the sentence – although due to an error this did not happen until IPSO’s investigation had concluded.

The site did not agree with the group’s definition of transphobic, which it said could be defined as showing dislike towards or prejudice against transgender people – adding that referring to the cricketer as “male” misgendered the cricketer and demonstrated transphobia.

IPSO noted that the story referred to a sensitive and contentious topic, and that the term “transphobic abuse” can be used to describe a range of attitudes and behaviours.

It found Kent Live had asserted as fact that Fair Play for Women had engaged in “transphobic abuse”, but it had not made clear that this characterisation had been based on the organisation’s references to the cricket player as “male” on social media.

This omission was significantly misleading, it ruled, and represented a failure to take care.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.