Decision of the Complaints Committee – 19677-23 A complainant v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. A complainant complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles headlined:
· “Sick Kids’ prayer room filled with LGBT flags”, published on 29 June 2023.
· “LGBT flags put up in hospital prayer room for children”, published on 29 June 2023.
· “Chaplaincy service faces investigation after LGBT display mounted in children's hospital prayer room”, published on 30 June 2023.
2. The first article appeared on the front page of the newspaper’s Scottish edition. It reported that a hospital prayer room “for gravely ill children and their families has been plastered with LGBT flags amid claims that the NHS is being hijacked by transgender ideology”. It said that the “chaplaincy service at the hospital, one of the UK’s leading centres for paediatric care, is run by [the complainant], a transgender man and activist who belongs to a fringe Christian congregation in Edinburgh. [The complainant], who has described being trans as a ‘gift from God’, is facing claims that he has breached rules which state hospital chaplains should not seek to impose their own beliefs when offering spiritual care.”
3. The second article appeared on page two of the London edition of the newspaper and was substantively similar to the first article. It stated the “chaplaincy service is run by [the complainant], a transgender man and activist who belongs to a fringe Christian congregation. He is facing claims he has breached rules which state hospital chaplains should not seek to impose their own beliefs when offering spiritual care”.
4. The first article under complaint also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline: “Hospital prayer room for gravely ill children plastered with LGBT flags”. This version of the article was published on 28 June 2023, and included an image of the complainant in front of a trans-inclusive pride flag. The photograph caption read: “Chaplaincy service at Edinburgh’s children’s hospital run by [the complainant], a transgender man and activist”. The article also included images of the pride flags in the prayer room.
5. The third article – which appeared online only – reported on an investigation into the chaplaincy service in relation to the pride flags. It said: “An NHS chaplaincy service is facing an investigation after a prayer room at a children’s hospital was plastered in ‘controversial and irrelevant’ symbols representing alternative genders and sexual practices.” It explained that complaints “have been made to the UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy (UKBHC), over claims that NHS Lothian chaplains breached its rules by introducing a LGBT display at Edinburgh’s Sick Kids hospital’s spiritual care ‘sanctuary’”. It went on to report that the “service is run by [the complainant], a transgender man who uses the title Reverend and wears a dog collar but belongs to a fringe Christian congregation in Edinburgh. NHS Lothian is facing claims the service has clearly breached standards of the UKBHC, where [the complainant] is a registered paediatric chaplain, which state that staff should not seek to impose their personal views on others and must respect different beliefs.” The article included a quote from a spokeswoman for the health board, who said: “The campus was decorated for the Pride Event by staff, including those from the local LGBT+ staff and allies networks at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and University of Edinburgh. We do not comment on individual members of staff or their working arrangements.”
6. The complainant, who was the chaplain referenced in the articles, said that the articles breached Clause 12 as they referenced their gender identity and sexuality, which they said was irrelevant to the article. While they acknowledged that they had been open about their gender identity with some family, friends, and colleagues, they said that their transgender status was not “open knowledge” within NHS Lothian. The complainant said that they were an advocate for transgender rights and involved in the recent gender recognition consultation by the Scottish Government, however they did not consider their very limited, and carefully chosen, disclosure equated to a public disclosure of their gender identity insofar as this rendered it relevant to the articles under complaint. The complainant said that their work had been severely impacted due to fear of being attacked by the hospital workforce, which demonstrated the very limited nature of their disclosure prior to the article.
7. In addition, the complainant said the online version of the first article had focused on their transgender identity, rather than their involvement with the LGBTQI+ community. The complainant said that this suggested the publication had an issue with their transgender identity and advocacy. The complainant said that the article could have made its arguments against the decoration of the hospital prayer room without any reference to their gender identity, or any reference to them. They argued that the intention of the article was to persuade readers, without any evidence, that the complainant’s transgender identity, and that alone, was the driving force behind the recognition of Pride month; moreover, that this driving force was “somehow perverted”.
8. Further, the complainant said that the headline of the online version of the first article – “Hospital prayer room for gravely ill children plastered with LGBT flags” – presented LGBTQI+ advocacy, identity, and recognition in a negative light. They also believed the article was generated out of discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community in general.
9. The complainant also complained under Clause 2, as the article had published details of their gender reassignment. They said that publishing this information had impacted their mental and physical health, as well as effecting their ability to work without fear of violence and intimidation. The complainant said that their gender identity had not been widely disclosed amongst their colleagues.
10. The complainant also raised concerns under Clause 3, as they said the article had harassed them on the basis of their gender identity. They said the article promoted homophobia, and falsely claimed they were a danger to patients solely because they were transgender. The complainant said the article had revealed their gender identity to the hospital workforce, which could encourage a transphobic attack. They said that the article had been shared by several extremist groups on social media, and these posts had included comments which: misgendered them; threatened harm; contained death wishes; accusations of grooming and paedophilia; as well as abusive and homophobic content.
11. The complainant also said that the third article had breached Clause 1, as they believed reporting the UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy was investigating the service was misleading. They said that this implied there was wrong-doing or misconduct, and that they had breached the UKBHC's code of conduct. They said that the article had implied the board had backed the investigation and any potential disciplinary action. However, the complainant said the newspaper had not had any direct contact with the board, and the text in the article had been taken from its website.
12. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. In response to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 12, the publication said the article was about LGBTQI activism within the NHS and NHS Lothian. It said the article had described very sensitive issues such as terminally-ill children, hospital care, and gender identity politics. It said that the fact that an openly transgender chaplain, who advocated for LGBTQI rights within the NHS and had spoken publicly about their gender identity and faith, was now being investigated for such matters, was highly relevant – and therefore, their gender identity was relevant to the articles under complaint.
13. The publication also did not consider that the article contained any pejorative or prejudicial references to the complainant’s transgender identity in breach of Clause 12. It said the first article’s online headline did not indicate any negativity regarding the complainant’s transgender identity, nor did the text of the article. It then said that the complainant had not identified any statement within the article relating to their trans identity that was prejudicial or pejorative as required by the Code. The publication did not accept the complainant’s position that the article had implied they were perverted. It said that the complainant had publicly spoken about being transgender and how that had influenced their work. The publication said it was entitled to report on the decoration of the prayer room, and the complainant’s role in its decoration and relevant biographical details, and it had simply reported on it in a factual manner.
14. The publication said the article had not breached Clause 2. It highlighted the terms of this Clause which say, in considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosure of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so. The publication asserted that the article had directly quoted a public statement the complainant had previously made about being transgender. It said that, therefore, the complainant’s status as a transgender man was firmly in the public domain. It also provided an article taken from the NHS Lothian website – and accessible via a web-search - where the complainant had disclosed he was a transgender man. It also provided a YouTube video, which it said showed the complainant openly talking about their gender identity.
15. The publication said there was no breach of Clause 3, as the Clause relates to the newsgathering process; for instance, ensuring that a journalist doesn’t continue to try to contact someone for comment once they have been asked to desist. They said that, for this reason, the complainant’s concerns did not engage the terms of Clause 3.
16. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 1 – it said it had accurately reported that complaints had been made about the chaplain’s conduct and were being investigated, as well as accurately reporting the response by the responsible body.
17. In response to the publication’s argument that the complainant had publicly disclosed their trans identity, the complainant said that – in the NHS article the publication shared – they had said: “Every now and again I find myself coming out to someone at work who is unaware of my story”. They said that this illustrated how their disclosure of their gender identity was not a common occurrence and was done in the context of “coming out saves lives”. They said that all chaplains, regardless of sexual or gender identity, form part of the staff support network and it is not uncommon to have a staff member seek confidential support around issues of their own identity. They said that this article was written in the context of offering support to colleagues who may be struggling with identity issues – and was not a “public parading” of their identity.
18. The complainant further said that the YouTube video the publication had shared showed a message to the international group of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), of which the complainant was a minister. They said that the MCC is an international LGBTQI+ affirming Christian church and that this message was given within a specific context, to a specific group of people – this was not a public proclamation. They said that the account which hosted this video had only 1,140 subscribers and the video had only been watched 326 times – therefore, they would not describe this as “public”. They said that just because this information was accessible online, this did not automatically equate it to being in the public domain and attention should be given to context and intended audience.
Relevant Clause Provisions
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.
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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.
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
19. The complainant said that the articles had referenced their gender identity and sexuality which they said was irrelevant to the articles – and, therefore, in breach of Clause 12 (ii). The Committee accepted that all articles under complaint had referenced the complainant’s gender identity, specifically that they are transgender. However, there were no references to the complainant’s sexuality. Therefore, where the article did not reference the complainant’s sexuality, there was no breach of Clause 12 on this point.
20. Having established that all three articles referenced the complainant’s gender identity, the question for the Committee was about the relevance of the complainant’s gender identity in the context of the three articles under complaint. The Committee noted the context of these articles: they focused on a prayer room - run by the complainant, a chaplain who ran the hospital’s chaplaincy service - which had been decorated with LGBTGI+ flags. Where the complainant was trans and advocated for the LGBTQI+ community, the Committee considered the complainant’s gender identity to be relevant information, given that the flags symbolised LGBTQI+ pride. Further, the first and second article had made clear the complainant was “facing claims that he ha[d] breached rules which state hospital chaplains should not seek to impose their own beliefs when offering spiritual care.” The third article reported on an investigation into the chaplaincy service, which it said was “run by [the complainant], a transgender man who uses the title Reverend and wears a dog collar but belongs to a fringe Christian congregation in Edinburgh. NHS Lothian is facing claims the service has clearly breached standards of the UKBHC, where [the complainant] is a registered paediatric chaplain, which state that staff should not seek to impose their personal views on others and must respect different beliefs.” In this instance, the complainant’s gender identity was relevant to the articles, and for this reason, there was no breach of Clause 12 on this point.
21. The Committee next considered whether the articles under complaint had contained any prejudicial references to the complainant’s gender identity. The Committee carefully looked at the language in the articles. However, the Committee did not find any references to the complainant’s gender identity which could constitute prejudicial or pejorative references and noted that the complainant had not highlighted any specific examples. The article had reported on the complainant’s gender identity in a factual way, and in the context of brief biographical details about the complainant – the references were not offensive or stereotypical, and nor did they portray the complainant’s gender identity as worthy of mockery or derision. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 12 on this point.
22. The Committee also considered the concerns that the article discriminated against the LGBTQI+ community and those who advocate for it in general. Clause 12 is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. It does not apply to groups or categories of people. Therefore, the Committee did not find a breach of Clause 12 on this point.
23. Turning to the complaint under Clause 2, the Committee noted the complainant’s position that they had not disclosed their transgender status to everyone they knew, and that the article had revealed private information by stating they were transgender. The publication had supplied an article and video, available online, where the complainant had disclosed their gender identity. While the Committee appreciated that the complainant believed this information was intended for specific audiences, the information was available online, and not limited by privacy settings or other methods of limiting access. Therefore, where the material was already in the public domain, and available to anyone who searched for it, the Committee did not consider the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over their transgender status. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 2.
24. Turning to the complainant’s concerns raised under Clause 3, the Committee were sorry to learn of the abuse the complainant had endured from members of the public following the articles’ publication. While it was sympathetic to these concerns, IPSO’s remit is limited to editorial content published by regulated publications, or on websites operated by regulated publications, and the behaviour of those working on their behalf. As the complainant’s concerns related to the conduct of members of the public, rather than the publication, there was no breach of Clause 3.
25. The Committee considered the complainant’s concerns raised under Clause 1. It noted that it was not in dispute that the chaplaincy service was being investigated and that the UKBHC had received complaints about a possible breach of its rules. It also noted that the article did not state that the publication had spoken directly to the board, but simply quoted a spokesperson. The Committee also did not consider the article had implied that there had been any finding following the investigations, and made clear that they were in their initial stages.. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
26. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 05/07/2023
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/11/2023
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