IPSO Blog: New transgender research

Chief Executive Charlotte Dewar on why IPSO commissioned research on the reporting of transgender issues.

Some of the most contentious and sensitive issues handled by IPSO relate to the reporting of transgender matters. Coverage generates broad, sometimes heated debate, and raises complex questions around balancing reporting freely on important societal issues with the potential impact on vulnerable individuals. IPSO has issued rulings on a number of complaints over the years relating to reporting in this area and it regularly comes up in our monitoring of editorial standards issues.

In recognition of this, reporting of transgender matters was the first piece of guidance for editors and journalists IPSO produced in 2015. Since then, we have continued to engage with organisations and individuals interested in coverage and to monitor developments.

Our internal monitoring has indicated that coverage of transgender matters has changed in recent years, but there has been little definitive research into this. The research undertaken by Mediatique is one of the first pieces of research that looks at a 10-year period and provides quantitative data about volumes of reporting as well as looking in depth at key coverage across the analysis period.

This independently-conducted research is intended to add to the evidence base for discussions of media coverage in this area and to engage with some of the challenges of reporting on this topic.

As regulator, we are interested in what the research tells us about what impacts editorial standards more broadly, not just in this area; by understanding how editorial standards change in one area, we can understand how they might change in other areas.

The research reaches interesting conclusions on the catalysts for change:

  • Notable news events provided “crunch points” for examining the impact reporting can have, leading to more nuanced coverage.
  • Changing societal attitudes as issues come to the fore can have dramatic effects on what is considered acceptable coverage, leading to publications changing their approach.
  • The work of groups and organisations interested in standards was cited as a factor by many editorial representatives who were interviewed, particularly when it brought enabled face-to-face encounters with those who had lived experiences of the issue. Interactions between transgender people and other media professionals; respectful engagement on social media; and the direct engagement of specific individuals around reporting of their story were noted by many research respondents to be impactful.
  • Response to IPSO’s guidelines on reporting around transgender issues was mixed; some felt they had made little difference whereas others found them useful both in terms of demonstrating how the Code should apply and as a benchmark for organisations around wider engagement with the press.

While we are glad to make the findings available to the public by publishing the report today, it is far from the end of our work on this area.

We intend to share the report widely and look forward to receiving feedback. We will refresh our guidance, which has not been substantially reviewed since it was first published in 2015, and will take into account the report’s findings on its impact. We will also look for more ways to act as convenor, bringing people with a wide range of perspectives on these issues.

Read the research and IPSO’s response here.