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Law Column: IPSO and reporting on sex and gender identity


All journalists and publishers recognise that reporting on issues concerning sex and gender identity can be difficult, and that getting it right is incredibly important. Never more so than now, with extensive reporting on the killing of transgender teen Brianna Ghey, and the controversy surrounding the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Scotland being just two current high profile news stories.

IPSO has released draft guidance on how its members should report on sex and gender identity matters, along with working examples of what it considers to be best practice.

The document is currently in a draft format and is the subject of a consultation which is open for submissions until 10th March.

IPSO has chosen to consult on this guidance before finalising it because it recognises that whilst it has consulted with many parties and interested organisations in producing the draft guidance, it is a topic which requires wider input.

So what does the draft guidance say?

The most obvious key points are that the press should not “make pejorative or prejudicial reference to an individual’s sex or gender identity”, and should consider whether reference to an individual’s gender identity is genuinely relevant to the story before including it.

The draft guidance goes on to address points in relation to accuracy, intrusion, children, reporting of gender diverse defendants, and discrimination.

Of course, the draft guidance will not be binding once it is finalised and in force, but will shape best practice and will assist publishers in preventing breaches of the Code.

In terms of accuracy, one of the most prominent issues is the reporting of changes to policies relating to gender identity, and ensuring that these are not misrepresented or over-stated. The draft document references a previous case where an article misrepresented guidance issued by an NHS Trust by suggesting the guidance required “the use of gender-neutral language in more scenarios than it did”.

The draft guidance also recognises that there are conflicting views on the subject of gender identity and says that whilst accounts of the conflicting views can be published, care should be taken in the presentation of those views. For example, the Committee says that it recognises that “transphobia has no single, simple manifestation and can include a range of behaviours and arguments” and therefore care needs to be taken in labelling statements as “transphobic abuse” as a matter of fact.

In relation to comment pieces, the draft guidance recognises that the press is free to campaign and be partisan, as well as publishing the views of individuals. It recognises that such opinions will “generate wide and fierce debate”, and that editors are “free to inform, scrutinise and challenge on this topical issue”.

In relation to intrusion, the draft guidance highlights the need to respect private and family life, so lists factors to consider, including:

  1. Whether the individual has made their gender identity or sex known;
  2. Whether the information in the article is already widely known or has been put in the public domain by the individual; and
  3. Whether there’s a public interest in publishing the information, and if so, whether the degree of intrusion is proportionate to the public interest being served.

The need to take special care when the individual concerned is a child is also considered in the draft document, along with noting the need for journalists and editors to make contemporaneous notes of the matters considered, decisions made, why and by whom, prior to publication.

The issue of reporting on proceedings involving gender diverse defendants is also covered, and the draft document acknowledges that it is a contentious topic which features in many debates. Factors for editors to consider include: the way the defendant is identified in court and the pronouns used by court officials and witnesses; the nature of the offence and whether the defendant’s gender identity is a relevant factor; and, the defendant’s gender identity at the time of the alleged offences.

The draft document also provides links to helpful resources, such as The Crown Prosecution Service Trans Equality Statement and the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary Equal Treatment Bench Book.

Whilst the draft guidance is subject to change following the consultation, this draft version gives a good indication of the way IPSO expects its members to approach the complicated issue of reporting on sex and gender identity, and (once finalised) should form part of any reporter’s toolkit.  And if you don’t agree with parts of the draft guidance, or have suggestions to improve it, you’ve got until 10th March to make your submissions.