Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01695-21 Parrott v Norwich Evening News
Summary of Complaint
1. Kezia Parrott complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Norwich Evening News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “NHS Trust has made a real boob of its call for gender-neutral language”, published on 15 February 2021.
2. The article was a comment piece which reported on recent guidance from Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust regarding terminology when referring to pregnancy and childbirth. The article stated that “breast-feeding” or “breast milk” seemed “like perfectly acceptable words” but that the Trust had said were “no longer acceptable. Instead we must start saying ‘chest feeding’ or ‘chest milk’ to be more inclusive”. The article quoted from the Trust’s guidance which stated it was “taking a gender-additive approach” and that this meant “a gender additive approach means using gender-neutral language alongside the language of womanhood, in order to ensure that everyone is represented and included”. The article described this as “clear as day”.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Trust has made a real boob of its call for gender-neutral language”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it did not accurately report the guidance issued by the Trust. In fact, the guidance stated that the terms “chest feeding” or “chest milk”, among other gender neutral terminology, were to be used “for the production of documents, protocols and communications” and “when discussing pregnancy, birth and parenting at a population level (for example, at meetings, study days or antenatal parent education)”. The guidance went on to state that “these language changes do not apply when discussing or caring for individuals in a one-on-one capacity where language and documentation should reflect the gender identity of the individual. When caring for cis women it is good practice to use terminology that is meaningful and appropriate to the individual; this may include terms such as woman, mother or breastfeeding”. It also noted that at population level, the terms should be additive, rather than replace gendered terms, for example “breast/chest feeding” rather than “breast feeding” or “chest feeding” alone. The complainant said that it was therefore wrong to report that the terms “breast-feeding” or “breast milk” were “no longer acceptable”, as these terms would be appropriate in many settings and the correct terminology would vary depending on the person seeking medical care.
5. The complainant also said that the article discriminated against the transgender community by publishing inaccuracies, and inciting hatred and ridicule in breach of Clause 12.
6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that where the guidance had stated that it was not acceptable to use the term “breast feeding” to certain individuals, it was not inaccurate to report that “breast-feeding” or “breast milk” were “no longer acceptable”. However, on receipt of the complaint and prior to IPSO’s investigation, it added the following clarification as a footnote to the online article and offered to publish it on page two, three, four or five of the print newspaper:
The Eastern Daily Press would like to make it clear the guidance published by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust states that the use of the expression 'breastfeeding' or 'breast milk' is only unacceptable in certain specific circumstances. Its guidance says that individuals may have preferred terminology for their own anatomy, or for activities that they use their body for. And that these preferred terms should be respected and used wherever possible. For example, some people may refer to their 'chest' and 'chestfeeding' rather than their 'breasts' and 'breastfeeding'. We are happy to clarify the situation and apologise for any confusion.
7. The publication said that the article referred to language in a broad sense and did not refer to an individual’s gender identity and therefore did not breach Clause 12.
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.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
8. The article had stated that Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust had said the terms “breast-feeding” or “breast milk” were “no longer acceptable”. It had also stated that ”we must start saying ‘chest feeding’ or ‘chest milk’ to be more inclusive”. It was inaccurate to report that the Trust had stated the terms “breast feeding” and “breast milk” were not acceptable – the Trust’s guidance stated that these terms should be used both in one-on-one sessions with cis-women and that breast/chest feeding should be used at population level. The publication had not taken care to accurately report the Trust’s guidance, and there was a breach of Clause 1(i).
9. The publication had published a clarification online, and had offered to do the same in print. The clarification acknowledged that the Trust guidance stated that the use of the terms were only unacceptable in certain circumstances and that the guidance stated that individual’s preferred terms should be used, which put the correct position on the record. The clarification was offered on receipt of the complaint and therefore represented due promptness. As the original article was published on page 19, the publication’s offer to publish this before page five represented due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
10. The Committee acknowledged that article may be considered offensive by some readers, but made clear that the Editors’ Code does not consider issues of taste or offence. Clause 12 does not apply to groups, but instead to identifiable individuals. As the complainant was not complaining on the behalf of an identifiable individual in the article, there was no breach of Clause 12.
11. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
12. The clarification which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 15/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/07/2021Back to ruling listing