05779-21 Dyess v The Sunday Times

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 05779-21 Dyess v The Sunday Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Beau Dyess complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Gay website 'claimed anti-trans feminists groom and abuse'”, published on 23 May 2021.

2. The article reported on a forthcoming defamation trial at the Royal Courts of Justice. It explained that “The case concerns an interview published in Pink News last May with an American writer, [complainant’s former name], who at the time was a lesbian woman. Dyess claimed that the ‘gender-critical’ feminist movement was a cult that groomed and abused.” After further describing the points at issue in the proceedings, the article stated that “Dyess, who is now known as Beau Dyess and identifies as a trans man, did not respond to approaches for comment.”

3. The complainant said that the article provided an inaccurate and misleading report of their identity in breach of Clause 1, and that the publication of this information constituted a form of harassment in breach of Clause 3. The complainant said the article ‘deadnamed’ them and misidentified their gender and sexual orientation. The complainant explained that they were “exploring” their gender identity “as a man who’s trans” who “also still [identified] as a lesbian”. Furthermore, the complainant said that contrary to the claim made within the article they had not been approached for comment by the newspaper.

4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. With regard to the complainant’s first point of concern about the use of their former name, the newspaper said that the article was a report of an ongoing legal case. The complainant was identified in the proceedings by their former name, and as such its own article necessarily referred to them by that name, and repeated aspects of the disputed article – such as the complainant’s gender identity and sexual orientation – that were relevant to the proceedings. It added that the complainant had co-operated with the 2020 article and it had no reason to question its accuracy or sensitivity. The newspaper provided copies of the Pink News article and submissions to the court in order to demonstrate this. The newspaper said it had taken additional steps to ensure that the article accurately reflected the complainant’s current identity by viewing the complainant’s Twitter profile; the name associated with the Twitter account was “Beau Dyess” and the Twitter profile for the account stated “he/him”. The newspaper also rejected the complainant’s allegation that it had not approached them for comment. The newspaper said its reporter had approached the complainant for comment on three separate occasions prior to publication, each through a different medium; twice directly through social media (Twitter and LinkedIn) and once indirectly via staff at Pink News, which had published the 2020 article.

Following a review of their social media accounts, the complainant accepted that the reporter had attempted to contact them for comment. However, the complainant did not accept that these efforts were sufficient and expressed concern at the manner of the reporter’s approach. The complainant said that their LinkedIn account had been “defunct” for a number of years and that they only received notifications on Twitter when their “followers” contacted them. The complainant added that they were no longer in communication with Pink News. The complainant expressed a further concern that the reporter’s message via LinkedIn had been addressed to their former name.  They said this approach and the general approach taken by the editorial team since was offensive and constituted harassment, in breach of Clause 3 and Clause 4.

5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of either of these additional clauses. It suggested that the complainant’s position that the newspaper made insufficient attempts to contact them and that the reporter harassed them were contradictory. It added that the complainant’s position that the publication should have been aware of the settings of their social media accounts, and the status of their relationship with the other publication, was “untenable”. Nor did the newspaper accept that the approach made by the reporter had been offensive or unprofessional, as suggested by the complainant. It noted that the LinkedIn account to which the message had been sent used the complainant’s former name; the reporter had therefore addressed the message using that name.

6. Whilst the newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code, the publication offered to publish a statement by the complainant regarding their gender identity in order to resolve their complaint.

7. The complainant said that only a retraction, apology and the publication of a statement would be sufficient to resolve their complaint. The complainant provided wording that outlined their position regarding the article under complaint, linked to their own writing on the gender critical movement and made allegations about another individual.

8. The newspaper did not consider the wording of the proposed statement appropriate as it argued that this went beyond the scope of the specific points under complaint. As such, the matter was passed to the Committee for adjudication. 

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.

Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Findings of the Committee

9. The complainant was concerned that the article had referred to them by their previous name. The Committee recognised the complainant’s concerns; however, it had regard to the context of the article. It was reporting on a defamation case brought against Pink News over a published interview with the complainant. The article reflected the name contained in the Pink News article and in the associated legal documents. It made clear that the complainant no longer used this name. Taken in this context, the reference to the complainant’s former name was not inaccurate and did not breach Clause 1.

10. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns regarding the article’s report of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The article had reported that “at the time” of the Pink News’ article the complainant “was a lesbian woman” and stated they now “identif[y] as a trans man”.  In considering the care taken by the newspaper, the Committee again had regard to the context of the article; it reflected the information contained in the headline and text of the Pink News article and in the associated legal documents. In addition, the Committee noted that the publication had attempted to clarify the complainant’s sexual orientation and gender identity by reflecting the information included on their publicly available social media profile and seeking their comments prior to publication, albeit the attempts it had made had been unsuccessful. On this basis, the Committee concluded that there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i).

Notwithstanding this, the Committee recognised that the complainant was best placed to comment on whether the article had misidentified their gender and sexual orientation. On this basis, the Committee considered that the complainant was entitled to an opportunity to reply to any inaccuracies on this point.  It noted that the publication had offered to publish a statement from the complainant addressing their gender and sexual orientation. In response to this offer, the complainant had proposed wording that outlined their position regarding the article and linked to their own article on the gender critical movement. It was a matter of regret that the parties had not been able to agree a form of words for the complainant’s reply, but the Committee considered that a fair opportunity to reply had been offered by the newspaper under the terms of Clause 1, and as such no further action was required. There was no breach of Clause 1 (iii).

11. The complainant stated that the claim that they had “not responded to approaches for comment” was inaccurate, as they had received no such contact from the publication. The publication had provided evidence that it had attempted to contact the complainant through three channels: LinkedIn; Twitter; and via the publication who had published the article that was at the centre of the proceedings. In light of these efforts, the Committee could not agree that it was misleading to say that the publication had approached the complainant for comment, or that they had not responded. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1.

12. In addition, the complainant said the publication of this information was insensitive in breach of Clause 4. The terms of Clause 4 make clear that its provisions “should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings”. As previously noted, most of the information in the report was included within a report on the submissions to the High Court for a forthcoming defamation case concerning an article published in 2020 and thereby already within the public domain; additional details, including the information about the complainant’s current gender identity, came from the complainant’s social media accounts, which they had chosen to place in the public domain. As such, the Committee did not consider that the publication of this information represented an intrusion into the complainant’s personal grief or shock. There was no breach of Clause 4.

13. Furthermore, the complainant said that the publication of the article constituted harassment as well as the communication they had received from the reporter. In this instance, the reporter had contacted the complainant for comment prior to publication through several channels. The direct message the reporter had sent to the complainant via LinkedIn was simply an enquiry as to whether they had a response to the filling of the defamation case that related to them; the message reflected the name included within these court documents, which was also used in the complainant’s LinkedIn profile. The complainant had not responded to this communication and appeared unaware of the three approaches made by the reporter prior to the IPSO’s investigation. Whilst the Committee appreciated that the reporter’s use of the complainant’s former name had caused them distress, it did not consider that the reporter had engaged in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit, given the nature of the communication. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

15. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 25/05/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/09/2021

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