Decision of the Complaints Committee - 04779-19 Bergdorf v The Times
Summary of complaint
1. Munroe Bergdorf complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Children won’t find role models in Playboy”, published on 15 June 2019.
2. The article was an opinion piece, in which the columnist criticised the NSPCC’s decision to appoint the complainant, a transgender activist, as Childline’s first LGBT+ campaigner.
3. The piece began with the columnist criticising Playboy’s influence on British women and girls; “in 2005, when [shop] sold Playboy-branded pencil cases, parents argued that little girls were being groomed into porn culture; in 2011, when the Playboy club reopened in Mayfair, it was picketed by feminists who saw it as a ‘gendered version of a minstrel show’”. The columnist continued: “But in 2019, posing for Playboy is “empowering” and qualifies you to be hired as a role model for Britain’s most vulnerable children”.
4. Against that background, the columnist said; “when I saw that Munroe Bergdorf, whose day job is modelling for Playboy, fetish and lingerie shoots, had been made an ‘ambassador’ for ChildLine, I asked the NSPCC why”. The columnist claimed that she had been “vilified” on twitter for questioning the NSPCC’s decision. She said: "…although everyone loves a witch-burning, it was not, as Bergdorf claims, my tweet that caused the NSPCC to sack her. (Which they did unkindly and for which they have rightly apologised.) It was because 'her statements on the public record . . . [were] in breach of our own risk assessments. These statements are specific to safeguarding and equality.'”
5. The columnist then went on to claim that female only spaces were being “erased”. She said: “We know what battering down our boundaries with insults and threats can allow in. Not, to be clear, from trans people, but potential abusive chancers looking for open doors”. The columnist said, "I read every official report into Jimmy Savile’s abuse in hospitals. What struck me was how he easily bought off the men... The only people who ever barred his way were older nurses. They could not be fooled. Nor are we now. We will not be bullied into surrendering our safeguards and seeing our liberation in porn.”
6. The complainant said that it was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1, for the columnist to have claimed that her “day job” is, or includes, “modelling for Playboy”. She said that she is a body positive role model and activist for the LGBTQ community, and had only given one editorial interview to Playboy in her career. The complainant said that while she had worn fetish items for stylised fashion shoots, this was not for any “fetish”, as suggested by the columnist. The complainant said that the columnist had likened her to Jimmy Savile, which was inaccurate and highly damaging. The complainant further denied that she had violated any of NSPCC’s rules.
7. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said it was not in dispute that the complainant had modelled for Playboy; the newspaper said that the number of engagements secured by the complainant was not at issue, the point the columnist was making in referring to “modelling for Playboy, fetish and lingerie shoots”, was that, in her opinion, anyone engaged in the kind of work suggested by that three-part description might not be an appropriate ambassador for a child protection charity. The newspaper provided a number of posts which the complainant had published on social media, which it said confirmed that she does “lingerie and fetish modelling.” The newspaper said that when a person devotes a significant amount of time to -- and presumably earns a significant income from -- posing for such photographs and sharing them on social media to promote a public image and personal "brand", it was not inaccurate to refer to this activity as the person's "day job".
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 newspaper had explained that the claim that the complainant had “modelled for Playboy, fetish and lingerie shoots” had been made in order to express the columnist’s view that engaging in the type of work suggested by that three-part description might not be appropriate for an ambassador for a child protection charity. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant is a body positive activist and advocate for the LGBTQ community; it was not in dispute that that the complainant posed for photographs which were used by Playboy. The columnist was entitled to focus upon this particular aspect of the complainant’s previous work, and to criticise the NSPCC’s decision to form a relationship with the complainant on that basis. Further, the newspaper had provided a basis for the columnist’s characterisation of the complainant’s career; it had provided screenshots from the complainant’s own Instagram account, which showed the pictures used by Playboy, and in lingerie. In those circumstances, and in the context of the columnist’s concern regarding the background of individuals selected to be role models for children, it was not misleading for the journalist to have focussed on this particular aspect of the complainant’s previous work, and characterise it as the complainant’s “day job”. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
9. The columnist did not claim that the complainant had a fetish; she claimed that the complainant had undertaken “fetish shoots”, which did not appear to be in dispute, given that the complainant accepted that she had worn fetish items during fashion shoots. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that she had not violated NSPCC’s rules, however, the columnist had simply repeated the statement released by the charity, the accuracy of which was not in dispute. The columnist did not liken the complainant to Jimmy Savile. Reference to Jimmy Savile was made to illustrate a wider point, which was that female only spaces were being erased by “potentially abusive chancers”, which the columnist made clear did not mean trans people. There was no breach of the Code on these points.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 15/06/19
Date decision issued: 16/09/19Back to ruling listing