Resolution Statement – 06439-21 Pascoe v spectator.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Sue Pascoe complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that spectator.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Stonewall’s worrying school guidance”, published on 20 August 2021.
2. The article, an opinion piece, suggested that Stonewall’s Diversity Champions’ programme appeared to be “haemorrhaging” membership since an investigation by the University of Essex found that the organisation had been preaching “Stonewall Law” rather than the actual law. The columnist then argued that the charity’s booklet, titled ‘Introduction to Supporting LGBT Children and Young People’, which was designed to support teachers, advised teachers to refer to students as “learners” and swept “away the rights of boys and girls to single-sex facilities” by “recklessly” claiming that “under the Equality Act (2010) a trans child or young person can use the toilets and changing rooms that match their gender”. The columnist noted that the “word toilet” was only mentioned once in the legislation and that in relation to disabled access to toilets on train, adding that the Equality Act “upholds sex-segregated facilities where it is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’”.
3. The complainant said the article was misleading, in breach of Clause 1, to suggest that schools were “reckless” to comply with the requirements of the Equality Act. She said that the charity’s booklet, titled ‘Introduction to Supporting LGBT Children and Young People’, rightly interpreted the legislation, contrary to the claims made by the columnist, as well as statutory guidance issued by the Department of Education and advice circulated by Ofsted. In addition, the complainant said the article was misleading to report that Stonewall’s Diversity Champions’ programme was “haemorrhaging” membership. She said that the departure of 25 organisations from a total of 850 could not reasonably constitute a “haemorrhage”, noting that there was a “natural ebb and flow each year” of subscription to this scheme. The complainant also expressed concern that the columnist had criticised Stonewall for its recommendation of the term “learners” which she argued reflected guidance first put forward by Ofsted.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the columnist was entitled to express her opinion, where its basis was made clear in the article. It said that the article was clearly presented as reflecting the columnist’s own perception and interpretation of the advice issued by Stonewall and its apparent separation from the Equality Act. It noted that the relevant legislation and guidance was linked to within the online article, in order to help readers better understand the context of the author’s statements. Furthermore, the publication provided a number of examples of organisations and government departments that had publicly distanced themselves from Stonewall in the weeks prior to the article’s publication, which it said supported the columnist’s characterisation that the organisation appeared to be “haemorrhaging” membership. The publication did not accept that the article had made any claim regarding the timing of the recommendation of the term “learners”.
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.
5. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
6. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered the complainant the opportunity to write an online article.
7. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.
8. 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: 20/06/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/07/2021Back to ruling listing