Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00661-21 Liberadzki v The Sunday Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Stefan Liberadzki complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sex question back on census in blow to trans rights”, published on 24 January 2021.
2. The article reported on what was the upcoming census. It stated that the national statistician had said that the 2021 census would require everyone to “declare their sex” and that the 2011 census had “allowed people to answer according to what gender they felt themselves to be". It included a quote from the head of the government statistical service who stated: “The question on sex is very simply your legal sex.”
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Sex question back on census in blow to trans lobby” in substantially the same format.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that there was no guidance or instructions printed on the 2011 census form itself which advised how respondents should answer this question, so it was misleading to report that the question was going to change in the 2021 census in the way the newspaper suggested. The complainant said that on this basis the headline was inaccurate as the question on sex in the census would be worded the same as it always had been, stating "What is your sex?". He said that as this question had never been removed from the census, it was inaccurate to report that it was “back on” the census. The complainant also said it was misleading to report the quote from the head of the government statistical service from a radio interview without clarifying that this was not official guidance that would appear on the form.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It provided the guidance for the 2011 census from the national archive which stated that transgender people could “select either ‘male’ or ‘female’, whichever you believe is correct, irrespective of the details recorded on your birth certificate. You do not need to have a Gender Recognition Certificate”. It said that information provided by the head of the government statistical service was definitive guidance in itself, and where he had said that the 2021 census required a person to answer with their legal sex, rather than what they believe their sex to be irrespective of their legal status, this could be considered to be a change of the guidance. It said, therefore, that the previous 2011 census was effectively a question on gender identity rather than sex, and that this was reversed for the 2021 census which made the question about legal sex. It said that headlines are a summary of the article, and that the full article went on to explain why it was considered to be “back on” the census and this was made clear within the first two paragraphs of the article. The publication also noted that in between the 2011 and 2021 census there were proposals from the Office of National Statistics to remove the word “sex”, which were followed by trials causing doubt that the question would be included within the 2021 census. The newspaper said that despite these trials and the doubt it would be there, the question regarding sex remained on the census, so it could be said to be “back on”. Despite not accepting a breach of the Code, the newspaper did offer to amend the headline to read “Guidance changed on census sex question in blow to trans lobby”.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
6. It was accepted that the question “What is your sex?” appeared on both the 2011 and 2021 census. The question for the Committee, therefore, was whether the way in which respondents were advised to answer this question had changed, such that in the 2011 census people could answer with the gender that they identified with, and in the 2021 census people would only be able to respond with their legal sex. The Committee did not accept the complainant’s position that because the guidance was online, as opposed to written on the census form itself, that it was not considered official guidance for the 2011 census. It also found that guidance provided by the head representative of the Office of National Statistics supported the publications position that the 2021 census would require people to answer with their legal sex. The article explained that in the 2011 census people were allowed to answer the question “what is your sex” according to which gender they felt themselves to be irrespective of their legal sex, and that this had changed in the 2021 census so that people had to answer the same question according to their legal sex only. The Committee noted that headlines summarise articles, although they must be supported by the text. Where the article set out the basis for the 2021 census having put the question of legal sex “back on” the census, after the 2011 census had allowed people to answer male or female depending on what they believed themselves to be, rather than their legally recognised sex, the headline was supported by the text and was therefore not misleading. On this basis, there was no breach of Clause 1, however, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to amend the headline.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 24/01/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 28/05/2021Back to ruling listing