Resolution Statement – 03148-21 Williams v The Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Nicola Williams complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Doctors who mix up sex and gender 'putting patients at risk'”, published on 3 April 2021.
2. The article reported on new research which suggested that “Doctors who deliberately confuse sex and gender are putting the treatment of some patients at risk”. It noted that “Problems can arise in the appropriate treatment of transgender patients who may be on long-term hormone therapy with oestrogen or testosterone to change their biological sex.”. It also stated that “confusion over sex and gender reflects arguments about changes to questions to be asked as part of Scotland’s census next year….For the first time Scots will be asked three questions relating to their sex, trans status and sexual orientation”. It reported that “Some statisticians [say] that this could distort figures on issues such as illnesses specific to men and women”.
3. The article appeared online in a substantially similar format.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in claiming that problems may arise in the case of transgender patients treated with “oestrogen or testosterone to change their biological sex”. She said that such patients cannot change their biological sex, only their sex characteristics. Further, she also said it was misleading to report that “statisticians [say] that [the three Scottish census questions] could distort figures on issues such as illnesses specific to men and women”. The complainant said that statisticians had no problem with the new questions, but rather took issue with the guidance provided on how to answer them.
5. On receipt of the complaint, the publication amended the online article to take into account the complainant’s comments.
6. The complainant expressed a concern that these amendments had not been recorded in a footnote correction or clarification.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
8. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
9. During IPSO’s investigation the newspaper offered to publish the following correction in print in its corrections column and as a footnote to the online article:
“In an article on the 2021 census we wrongly referred to “transgender patients who may be on long-term therapy … to change their biological sex” (Doctors who mix up sex and gender ‘put patients at risk’, April 3). Hormone therapy cannot change biological sex. We also reported that statisticians were concerned that census questions on sex, trans status and sexual orientation “could distort figures on issues such as illnesses specific to men and women”. We have been asked to make clear that the concerns expressed related specifically to guidance that the sex question could be answered with a gender identity”.
10. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.
11. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 03/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/05/2021Back to ruling listing