Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09159-19 Fair Play for Women v kentlive.news
Summary of Complaint
1. Nicola Williams, acting on behalf of Fair Play for Women, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that kentlive.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Katie Hopkins epically shut down after rant about Kent transgender woman”, published on 6 November 2019.
2. The article reported on a Tweet by Katie Hopkins that related to a transwoman cricketer who had won “club women’s player of the year” and the response from the cricket club. The article also reported that the cricketer’s “impressive club appearances have been clouded by transphobic abuse from the group Fair Play for Women”. The article did not describe what the alleged “transphobic abuse” had consisted of.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because Fair Play for Women had not “abused” the cricketer, but had merely commented on whether biological males who identified as women should be eligible to play in women’s cricket teams. She said that the term “transphobic” meant having an irrational fear of transpeople, which was not the case. She also said that the “abuse” referenced in the article consisted of Tweets in which Fair Play for Women had referred to the cricketer as “male”, discussed the cricketer’s biology, physical body and legal status and asked for sports professionals and women to “speak up NOW”. The complainant said that these Tweets were not “misgendering”. She further said that a person’s gender identity had no impact on their sporting ability, whereas their physical body and sex did. For these reasons, the complainant argued that the Tweets were not transphobic, but raised a genuine concern and a subject for debate. She said no journalist had contacted her or Fair Play for Women in order to establish whether the allegations that they had committed transphobic abuse were correct, and they therefore had no opportunity to deny this allegation. In addition, she said that as the article did not describe the alleged “abuse”, the background had not been made clear to readers and the article carried an insinuation that Fair Play for Women may have committed a crime or that the abuse was conduct more serious than Tweeting.
4. The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code. On receipt of the complaint, as a gesture of goodwill, it offered to delete the sentence in the article that referred to Fair Play for Women and to add a clarification to set out the group’s position. However as the complainant wanted an op-ed rather than a clarification, an agreement could not be reached and a clarification was not published. The publication nevertheless resolved to delete the sentence as a gesture of goodwill, but due to an error the sentence was not permanently deleted until IPSO’s investigation had concluded.
5. The publication did not agree with the complainant’s definition of transphobic, which it said could be defined as showing dislike towards or prejudice against trans persons. The publication provided the Tweets from the complainant which said: “Male cricketer wins WOMEN OF THE YEAR. No ‘transition’. Just self-ID and new pronouns. Sports women must speak up NOW.”; “Concern that women are being displaced from their own game is not hypothetical, It’s happening now. A male called Maxine is playing at county level for Kent. Maxine used to play as a man and now, with no medical changes whatsoever, is rising to the top of women’s county cricket.”; and (in response to the cricketer’s teammate) “Tammy, it’s understandable you want to stick up for your friend Maxine but the argument that males don’t have an advantage in cricket is utter nonsense & you know it. We need sports professionals to engage with this issue seriously so we can find a solution that works for all.” It said that referring to the cricketer as “male” misgendered the cricketer and demonstrated transphobia. It also said that the Tweet, by suggesting that the cricketer had not transitioned, was transphobic as transitioning does not require surgery and can encompass a range of medical or physical issues. Furthermore, it said that encouraging others to “speak up NOW” against the cricketer was also transphobic. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to publish the following statement as a clarifying footnote:
We have been asked to make it clear that Fair Play for Women were speaking up against male participation in women's sport. They do not consider referring to trans women who do not hold a gender recognition certificate (GRC) as a man, to be transphobic abuse, as described.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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
7. The Committee noted that the article referred to a sensitive and contentious topic, and that the term “transphobic abuse” can be used to describe a range of attitudes and behaviours. The article had asserted as fact that Fair Play for Women had engaged in “transphobic abuse”, but it had not made clear that this was the newspaper’s characterisation based on the organisation’s references to the cricket player as “male” on social media. This omission was significantly misleading and represented a failure to take care and there was a breach of Clause 1(i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
8. The publication offered to delete the line after receiving the complaint and, in direct correspondence with the complainant, offered to publish a statement which clarified the position. It then offered specific wording for this statement during IPSO’s investigation. The Committee noted that to correctly reflect the position of Fair Play for Women, the proposed correction needed to be amended to state that the group did not consider calling a transwoman “male” to be “transphobic abuse”, rather than referring to “a man”. In addition, in order to identify the misleading information which was being corrected, the correction should begin “A previous version of this article reported that Fair Play for Women had committed transphobic abuse”. The offer to publish a clarifying statement was made promptly, prior to IPSO’s investigation, and the publication of the correction as a footnote to the online article represented due prominence. This should now be published to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
9. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
10. The correction which was offered, with the amendment of the Committee, clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 27/11/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/04/2020Back to ruling listing