Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01958-21 Linehan v metro.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Graham Linehan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dating app Her stands by transgender community after Father Ted creator Graham Linehan poses as trans woman”, published on 23 February 2021.
2. The article, which only appeared online, reported on the public statement from a dating app, which the article said was issued “after Graham Linehan set up a dating profile to mock transgender women” and was banned from the app for doing so. The article explained further that the complainant had “...infiltrated the app and shared screenshots of trans women he deemed to be not feminine enough”. The article went on to report that, since setting up the dating profile, Mr Linehan “continued his writings on his perceived ‘war on women’ by transgender people” and wrote the following on his blog: “To be serious for a second, I’m not doing this [setting up the dating profile] JUST for a laugh. I’m doing this to demonstrate that it’s impossible to tell the difference between men and self-identifying “trans-women”. I’m doing it to expose an ideology that is homophobic, misogynistic and puts women and girls in danger.”
3. The article went on to report on criticism that Mr Linehan had received from social media users over the “stunt”, and that he had “denied being transphobic in the past, saying in 2019: ‘Your sex is not assigned, your sex is observed and recorded. I follow a lot of intersex people on Twitter, and they are sick of being weaponised in this way by this ideology. Even they believe that sex is observed, not assigned. I do believe [in gender dysphoria] and it’s a very serious thing, but the current widening of the definition actually puts these people in danger. Real transexuals will not receive the help they need because they are being flooded by all sorts of different types.” The article also stated that Mr Linehan has “in more recent years […] become more known for his anti-trans rhetoric, previously comparing transgender activism to Nazism and accusing LGBTQ+ group[s] of grooming.”
4. The article closed by stating that “Metro.co.uk has contacted Mr Linehan […] for comment.”
5. The complainant contacted the publication prior to making a complaint to IPSO. Upon being contacted by the complainant, the publication edited the article, making clear that the complainant “denied being anti-trans” and amending the article so that, rather than stating that the complainant was “known for his anti-trans rhetoric”, it stated that “he has become known for sharing his views on trans people.” These changes were made on the day of the article’s publication.
6. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it misrepresented his reasons for joining the dating app; while he accepted that there was an element of humour to what he characterised as a “stunt”, the main purpose of his action was to draw attention to straight men using a lesbian dating app by self-declaring that they were transwomen. He provided a link to his blog, which he said set out his true position on the matter, which was that he considered allowing self-declared trans-women on the app was homophobic. He also said that the article was inaccurate to describe him as “anti-trans” and that he was “harassing transwomen”. He finally said that, while the article said that he had been contacted for comment, he had received no such contact from the publication.
7. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 3 (Harassment), where he said it portrayed him as anti-trans and was the latest in a long line of articles to do so, and as such led to abuse from the wider public.
8. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. Turning to the complainant’s Clause 1 concerns, it first noted that – while the complainant stated that the article mischaracterised his reasons for joining the dating app – the article had quoted extensively from his blog, which set out his reasons for joining the app. As such, the publication did not accept that the article had mischaracterised the complainant’s reasons for joining the app, which were clearly set out in the quoted blog piece.
9. The publication then turned to the alleged inaccuracy identified by the complainant, regarding claims that he was “harassing transwomen” and was “anti-trans”. It first noted that the article did not refer to him “harassing” transwomen; rather, it stated that his actions were “mocking”. The publication considered this to be an accurate characterisation of the complainant’s own comments on why he had joined the app, where he had said “I’m not doing this JUST for a laugh” – confirming that a motivation for him joining the app was to joke at the expense of transwomen. It also considered that it was accurate to state that the complainant was “known for his anti-trans rhetoric”, noting that examples of this rhetoric were to be found within the article, as the complainant had “previously compar[ed] transgender activism to Nazism and accus[ed] LGBTQ+ group[s] of grooming.” The publication also noted that, at the time of publication, the complainant’s Wikipedia entry included a section titled “Anti-transgender activism”, which included the complainant’s “comparison of the medical transition of children to Nazi experiments on children, and [his] suspension by Twitter for 'hateful conduct', following which [he] created a sockpuppet account posing as a trans man in order to call the executive director of Amnesty Ireland 'a traitor to women, gay people and yourself' for signing an open letter expressing support for the transgender community.” For these reasons, the publication did not accept that it mischaracterised the complainant’s position on trans issues or his reasons for joining the app.
10. The publication also said that it had contacted a representative of the complainant for comment, and as such it did not accept that it was inaccurate for the article to report that the complainant was contacted for comment. While it did not accept that the Code had been breached, it amended the article to make clear that it was a representative of the complainant who had been contacted for comment, and not the complainant himself.
11. The publication said that the terms of Clause 3 were not engaged by the complaint, where the Clause relates to the behaviour of journalists and the methods by which they approach people in relation to articles.
12. The complainant said that he still considered that the article misrepresented his position and reasons for joining the dating app. The complainant accepted that the publication contacted his agent for comment, and noted that his agent had not passed the request on. He finally said that he would be willing to resolve his complaint should the publication publish a correction and an apology.
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 3 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
Findings of the Committee
13. The Committee considered whether it was significantly inaccurate for the article to report that the complainant had created the profile on the app to “mock transgender women.” The Committee noted that the complainant’s own blog on the subject – which the complainant had flagged for IPSO’s attention as the best source of information on his position – was quoted at length in the article. In one of the excerpts, the complainant said that he had not created the dating profile “JUST for a laugh. I’m doing this to demonstrate that it’s impossible to tell the difference between men and self-identifying ‘trans-women’. I’m doing it to expose an ideology that is homophobic, misogynistic and puts women and girls in danger.” Given that the complainant’s blog had arguably referenced humour as one of his reasons for creating the profile, the Committee found that it was not significantly inaccurate for the publication to characterise the reason he joined to app as being “to mock transgender women”, particularly when the article also included the full explanation for creating the profile which was provided by the complainant on his blog. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The Committee next considered the complainant's complaint that it was inaccurate for the article to have described him as someone who had become “known for his anti-trans rhetoric.” The article contained examples of the comments which the complainant had made publicly on the subject, as well as the criticism which he had attracted from social media users. While the Committee understood that the complainant disputed the publication’s description of him in these terms, it found that the article was not inaccurate in circumstances where it had set out the basis for the description and had also made clear that he denied being transphobic and included comments made by him on the subject in 2019; his position regarding this description of him was therefore made clear in the article. The Committee did not find that Clause 1 had been breached on this point; nonetheless, it welcomed the publication’s decision to amend the article upon being contacted by the complainant, both to reiterate that the complainant denied being “anti-trans” and to remove the specific reference to “anti-trans rhetoric” which the complainant disputed.
15. The complainant accepted that the publication had contacted his representative for comment. As such, it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had been contacted for comment, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
16. The Committee noted that the complainant had issues with harassment from third-parties, which he considered was a direct result of article such as the one under complaint. However, where Clause 3 relates to the conduct of journalists and not members of the public, the terms of Clause 3 were not engaged by the complainants’ concerns on this point. There was no breach of Clause 3.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 26/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/06/2021Back to ruling listing