Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01445-20 Robertson v Telegraph.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Stuart Robertson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “International Women's Day has been hijacked by trans activists”, published on 6 March 2020.
2. The article was a comment piece in which the author expressed her concerns about International Women’s Day being hijacked “by trans-activists and their virtue-signalling allies”. It included five incidents related to International Women’s Day which she said demonstrated her position. One of these incidents related to flags which had been put up by a local council to celebrate International Women’s Day. The article reported that the [named council] had been “pressurised into removing” the flags after complaints that the message on the flags was transphobic. The article reported that “The offensive words? A copy of the definition of ‘woman’ (noun: adult human female)”. The columnist also quoted part of a Tweet from one of the “handful of trans people” who had complained, who she claimed had “insisted that the message was a ‘transphobic dog whistle’.” The article went on to quote the Tweet in full: “hi [named council] the flag you’re flying at the moment is a hostile transphobic dog whistle, recognised as a symbol and brand of one of Britain’s most outspoken and visible transantagonists, and the leader of a transphobic hate group.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the complaints that the flag was transphobic were not made because of the “offensive words” but because the flag, including its font, colouring and message, was a symbol for a well-known anti-trans activist. He said that the journalist who wrote the article was aware of this, but had deliberately omitted this information and reported that it was just because of the wording, rather than the deeper meaning behind it, that was the reason the flags were taken down in order to diminish the incident.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the complainant did not dispute the accuracy of the article, nor did the complainant’s position contradict what the article said: the flags had been removed because the message was considered to be transphobic. It said that omitting to report that the flag was a symbol of an anti-trans activist in the text of the article was not misleading where it made clear that the flags had been removed due to the fact they bore a message that some considered transphobic. It also said that the full Tweet was embedded within the article, which made clear to readers that it was not only the words themselves that made the flag transphobic, but that they were a symbol of an anti-trans activist. In addition, the omission of the full reasoning within the text of the article as to why it was transphobic was not significant within the context of the article, as it formed a small part of an opinion piece that included several examples.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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. The article had given five examples to support the author’s opinion, of which the removal of the “flags” was just one. The complainant had accepted that the flags were taken down because their message was transphobic, but he was concerned that the article was misleading because it had characterised the flag removal as merely an issue over displaying a definition of ‘woman’. The article had included a Tweet which stated that the “flag you’re flying at the moment is… recognised as a symbol and brand of one of Britain’s most outspoken and visible transantagonists, and the leader of a transphobic hate group.” Given that the flags had been taken down following complaints that they were transphobic, and because the quoted Tweet made clear the reason behind the complaints, the reporting of the reasons for the flags’ removal was not misleading. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 06/03/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 11/06/2020Back to ruling listing