Resolution Statement – 10071-22 Swayne v South Wales Argus

    • Date complaint received

      25th August 2022

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 10071-22 Swayne v South Wales Argus

Summary of Complaint

1. Jen Swayne complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that South Wales Argus breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Woman’s vow over stickers” published on 28 May 2022.

2. The frontpage headline directed readers to the main article, which appeared on page 5, and detailed the complainant’s arrest by Gwent Police on suspicion of criminal damage and displaying threatening or abusive writing likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress, as well as the complainant’s response to the police’s action. A photograph of the complainant appeared alongside the headline on the front page. The main article within the body of newspaper appeared under the headline “‘I will resume my sticker campaign’”.

3. The article reported that, prior to her arrest, the police had received reports of “offensive” posters being placed around the city; the was complainant subsequently arrested “after officers saw her attaching stickers to lamp posts”. It said that “as part of the arrest”, the complainant’s “home was also raided by police, and items including stickers were confiscated”. The article reported that “[a]ctivists for the transgender community […] accused [the complainant] of transphobia due to the content featured on her stickers”. This included comments such as “no child is born in the wrong body, humans never change sex” and “periods can be awful but much worse when sharing toilets with boys in school, men at the gym, public, pubs and clubs”. It then stated that “this type of messaging is deeply offensive to transgender people because it challenges their gender identity and implies that a trans woman is not a woman but a man”. It went on to say that newspaper had approached Stonewall Cymru for comment “to help explain to readers who may not know much about being transgender why such phrases are offensive” with the organisation’s website stating: “if you aren’t recognised as being the gender you know you are, it is extremely damaging”.

4. The article also included comments made by the complainant. The complainant said that, following her arrest, her home was searched by the police, with officers taking “hundreds of stickers – about one hundred posters, and a book on different perspectives on trans ideology”, adding that the police “went through everything and found nothing transphobic.” It reported that she was “unapologetic” for her actions; said the police “got it wrong”, with the Crown Prosecution Service “drop[ing] everything”; and would continue to sticker following the experience: “I’ve been putting these stickers up for about a year about a year and people gradually started picking up on it and people immediately thought it was transphobic. In the eye of the beholder, that’s not my problem how somebody beholds something […] I will continue to be a feminist activist and I already have my ideas and strategy ready to go”. The article also included the complainant’s comments regarding the police’s handling of the situation and its consideration for her physical and mental health.

5. The article reported that the local police force had “issued an unusually detailed statement about [the complainant’s] treatment after her arrest” and which included the statement: “Upon release, the woman was offered transport for both herself and her mobility scooter but declined and chose to make her own way home”.

6. The article also appeared online on 27 May 2022 with the headline “Jennifer Swanye [sic] vows to keep posting anti-trans stickers”. The text of the article was substantially the same as the print version.

7. The complainant said that the headline of the online article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1. She did not vow to keep posting “anti-trans” stickers; she was “pro-woman” and “gender-critical”. She said that the wording included on the stickers was not transphobic, with the police taking no further action against her. She also said that the headline of the online article misspelt her last name, incorrectly referring to her as Jennifer “Swanye”.

8. The complainant also said that the article – both online and in print – was inaccurate and misleading to report, as fact, that the type of messaging included within her stickers was “deeply offensive to transgender people”; offense was a subjective assessment rather than an objective truth.

9. Further, the complainant said the article misrepresented her release from police custody. While she had initially accepted the police’s offer transport, she was then informed of a considerable delay to the process. Because of this, and medical matters, she had declined the offer and chose to make her own way home.

10. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code, upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO, it apologised for the misspelling of the complainant’s surname and amended the headline of the online article. The publication did not accept that this error represented a significant inaccuracy to requiring correction.

11. In addition, the publication did not accept that the headline of the online article was inaccurate or misleading to report that the complainant had vowed to keep posting “anti-trans stickers”. It said that the headline was supported by the text of the article which made clear that the complainant had vowed to keep posting the type of messaging which had led to her arrest; included descriptions of previous examples of stickers posted by the complainant; and explained how this type of messaging was “anti-trans”.

12. Further, it did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that the stickers were “deeply offensive to transgender people”. Notwithstanding this, the publication offered to amend the online article to state that the messaging was “deeply offensive to many transgender people”, thereby acknowledging the complainant’s position that there may be some transgender people who wouldn’t find the content offensive.

13. Nor did the publication accept that the article was inaccurate in relation to the complainant’s release from custody. This information had been based upon a statement issued by the Gwent Police, and attributed as such. Further, the complainant’s concerns did not contradict this position but rather gave additional context. While the publication did not accept that this additional context rendered the article inaccurate, it proposed to amend the online article to make clear that the complainant had refused the police’s offer of transport because of the estimated time and private medical matters.

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.

Mediated Outcome

14. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

15. During IPSO’s investigation, in a gesture of goodwill, the publication offered to publish a clarification which acknowledged that the police took no action against the complainant and that she maintained the stickers were not “anti-trans”. It said that this clarification would appear as a footnote to the online article and as a standalone item in print.

16. The complainant said that the publication of this clarification – which also corrected the misspelling of her last name – would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

17. The publication then published the following item online and in print, under the headline “Jennifer Swayne clarification”: 

“In May, the South Wales Argus ran the above article about Jennifer Swayne who had been arrested after stickers were placed in locations in Newport. The online headline reads ‘Jennifer Swayne vows to keep posting anti-trans stickers’. We are happy to clarify that Ms Swayne denies that the stickers were ‘anti-trans’ and rather that they were ‘pro-women’ and ‘gender-critical’. In addition, we are happy to further clarify that, as stated in the article, police took no further Ms Swayne was not charged with any offence. We have also corrected a mis-spelling of Ms Swayne's name in the headline.”

18. 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: 07/06/22

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/08/22