Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04770-18 Bee v The Sunday Times
Summary of complaint
1. Amelia Bee 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 “Ladies’ loos at City landmarks may open to trans women”, published on 29 July 2018.
2. The article reported that women’s toilets at landmarks in the City of London “could be opened to transgender people in the most radical move yet to promote their rights”. It said that the City Corporation “was proposing to open all its women’s facilities and services to anyone who ‘self-identifies’ as woman or girl, whether or not they have transitioned”. The article went on to report reactions to the alleged proposal from “feminists” and others. It said that, as part of a consultation on the matter, the City Corporation had said that it proposed that “where access to services or facilities are restricted by gender….the restriction should relate to the gender with which the service user consistently identifies now.” The article reported that the City Corporation “proposes not asking service user to provide ‘proof’ of their gender identity, but would instead rely on each service user to self-identify their gender.”
3. The article
appeared in the same format online, under the same headline.
4. The complainant said that the article’s headline was misleading, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because it suggested that transgender women were, at the time of writing, not legally allowed to use the women’s toilets. She said that, in fact, their right to do so was protected under the Equality Act through the protected characteristic of gender reassignment – which applies from the moment a person has the intent to undergo gender reassignment. She said that any proposal or consultation by the City Corporation could not affect the legal status quo, and that therefore the suggestion made by individuals quoted in the article, that the proposal was “dangerous” or an “erosion of women’s spaces”, was misleading. She noted that a representative of the Corporation, who had been quoted in the article, had since publicly stated that transgender women had long been able to use the facilities of their choosing.
5. Initially, the
publication denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). It provided the text of
the consultation document, which set out the City Corporation’s intention to
“develop an over-arching policy on gender identity…in relation to the provision
of services”, and referred to the admissions policy at the bathing ponds
operated by the Corporation as stating that “anyone who self-identifies as a
woman may use the Ladies’ Pond”. Its journalist had asked the Corporation
whether it proposed that a similar change was envisaged for the City’s public
toilets, such that ‘self-identifying’ trans women should be allowed to use the
women’s facilities. The corporation had responded as quoted in the article, to
state that any restriction should relate “to the gender with which the service
user consistently identifies now”. The journalist therefore took it that the
Corporation’s proposal was ‘to allow self-identifying transgender people to use
the facilities of their choice, whether or not they fulfil the Act’s definition
of gender reassignment’. The journalist understood that the Act’s existing
provisions would not apply to solely ‘self-identifying’ trans women; if it did,
the Corporation would not need to consult on the matter of extending the use of
facilities to them. However, the publication argued that, as the Corporation
had not indicated that trans women could already use the toilets of their
choice, there was no failure to take care over the article.
receipt of the complaint, the publication contacted the Corporation to clarify
its position; however, it refused to do so. Nevertheless, the publication
offered to amend the article to make clear that the headline and body text
referred to “self-identifying trans women”, and to clarify the current position
under the Equality Act by stating “Under the Equality Act, providers of
services such as public lavatories must not discriminate against people who
have undergone – or are planning – gender reassignment but can exclude them
from single-sex facilities if doing so is a “proportionate means of achieving a
legitimate aim”. It subsequently removed the article from its website
altogether, and offered to publish the following, as a standalone online
clarification, and on its letters page:
Our report ‘Ladies loos at City landmarks may open to trans
women’ (News, July 29) was misleading because it did not accurately explain the
current rights of transgender women under the Equality Act. Service providers
can allow transgender people to use single sex spaces such as toilets but can
exclude them if this can be justified as a proportionate way to achieve a
7. The complainant
said that this offer was inadequate, as it did not contain an apology to the
transgender community, or indicate that transgender access to single sex spaces
does not correlate with increased criminal activity. She was also concerned
that the proposed clarification did not make clear that the Corporation’s consultation
cannot affect rights bestowed by the Equality Act. In addition, she said that
the term ‘self-identifying transgender women’ was unhelpful because all
transgender people ‘self-identify’.
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
8. The article’s
headline and standfirst had stated that the City’s toilets were not currently
open to trans people. The publication had accepted that it had no basis for
this claim; there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of this
information, in in breach of Clause 1(i).While the Committee was not in a
position to know the Corporation’s position in relation to the application of
the Act prior to the article’s publication, it was accepted that, under the
Equality Act, service providers can allow transgender individuals to use the
facilities aligned with their gender identity, unless an exception is in force.
By failing to record the position under the existing legislation, and in the
absence of contrary evidence indicating that this Act was not being applied in
the City, the article gave rise to a misleading impression that required clarification
in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). The publication’s offered
clarification explained the position of the Equality Act with respect to
single-sex facilities. As the Committee was not in a position to know the
Corporation’s position with respect to its application of the Act, this
clarification was sufficient to address the misleading impression in the
article. The publication had offered this clarification with sufficient
promptness and prominence: its Letters page is the established location for
corrections and clarifications within the publication. There was no further
breach of Clause 1 (ii).
9. The complaint
was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
10. The publication had offered to print a clarification on
its Letters page and as a standalone online item. This offer had been made with
sufficient promptness and prominence, and the offered wording was sufficient to
correct the misleading impression the article had given of existing rights for
trans people under the Equality Act.
Date complaint received: 30 July 2018
Date decision issued: 11 December 2018
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