Ruling

17700-23 Calvert v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      28th September 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 17700-23 Calvert v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of Complaint

1.   Jed Calvert complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sexually unsure pupils aged 11 told: ‘You’re queer’”, published on 24 March 2023.

2.   The article reported on the teaching of LGBTQ+ identities in Scottish schools. One of the schools referred to in the article was said to have used teaching materials which told students that, if they did “not yet know their sexual orientation”, they were “queer”. These teaching materials also reportedly stated that “there are three biological sexes […] male, female or intersex”. The article also contained a quote from a member of “For Women Scotland, the campaign group”, and described LGBT Youth Scotland as a “lobby group”.

3.   The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline, “If you don’t know who you fancy then you’re queer, schools tell children”, published on 23 March.

4.   The complainant, a student at the referenced school, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that he had not, during his time at the school, witnessed the school forcing anyone into gender identities or telling students they were “queer”. The complainant also said there was no reference to intersexuality in the teaching materials he had seen – though he was unable to provide these materials to IPSO.

5.   The complainant also said it was inaccurate to describe LGBT Youth Scotland as a “lobby group” – as it was partially funded by the government – and to describe For Women Scotland as a “campaign group”, as he said it was an “anti-trans activist group”. He also considered that the article used charged language, and said it inaccurately suggested that children are “turned trans” by learning about various gender identities. He raised particular concern about the headline of the online version of the article, as he considered it conflated “who” a person “fancied” with the gender(s) of the people they were attracted to.

6.   The complainant also said that the article discriminated against LGBTQ+ people, in breach of Clause 12, as it implied that teaching about gender identity could indoctrinate or convince children they were “queer”. He also said it was discriminatory for the article to include a quote from For Women Scotland.

7.   The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It firstly said that the presentation referenced in the article had been given to students in their first year of high school; the complainant was not in the same year-group, and therefore did not have first-hand knowledge of the teaching material and how it was presented in a classroom setting. It provided IPSO with a copy of the presentation; this included a slide which defined “queer” as a "catch all term" which many people use "when they are not sure what their sexual or romantic orientation is". The publication said that it believed that children who were 11 years old were in the class where this material was taught, and it considered that many such children may not have developed sexual attraction or begun puberty, and would not know what their sexual or romantic orientation is. Therefore, there was a factual basis for reporting that the teaching materials told students that, if they did “not yet know their sexual orientation”, they were “queer”.

8.   The publication also noted that a further slide in the presentation stated: “When you're born you will be one of three things: male; female; intersex. This is your biological sex”; it said the article could not, therefore, be inaccurate on this point. The publication also noted that, when questioned about the contents of the presentation prior to the publication of the article, Edinburgh Council had responded saying that the school in question “said the presentation had been put together from a number of different resources and following feedback from parents it was being reviewed"; neither party had disputed that the presentation was used in the manner described in the article.

9.   The publication did not consider it inaccurate for the article to describe LGBT Youth Scotland as a “lobby group”, as it received funds from several sources, not just the Scottish government. It also said the group had engaged in activities which could be characterised as “lobbying” such as: organising a letter writing campaign to MSPs, arranging meetings with MSPs and trans people; and providing advice to engage with MSPs. With regard to For Women Scotland, it noted the group described one of its aims as campaigning, and therefore did not consider describing it as a “campaign group” to be inaccurate.

10. The publication did not consider Clause 12 to be engaged, as there was no reference to an individual in the article, nor did it consider there to be any prejudicial or pejorative language used.

Relevant Clause Provisions

  • 1 (Accuracy)
  • The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
  • 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. 
  • A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
  • The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
  • 12 (Discrimination)
  • 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.
  • 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

11. The Committee noted that the complainant was a student one of the schools referenced in the article – however, he was not complaining on behalf of the school and was not able to provide the teaching materials the school used when teaching pupils about LGBTQ identities. In addition, the complainant was not in a position to know if the presentation provided by the publication had ever been used by the school – rather, he could only say that this was not the version he himself had seen.

12. The Committee did not consider that it was inaccurate for the article to report that the school had told students that if they did “not yet know their sexual orientation” that they were “queer”, or that “[i]f you don’t know who you fancy then you’re queer”, where the presentation – which the publication had provided, and which neither the local council or school appeared to dispute had been used by the school – defined “queer” as a "catch all term" which many people use "when they are not sure what their sexual or romantic orientation is". The Committee did not consider the term “who” to be misleading as a shorthand reference to a person’s gender in the online headline, where the article made clear the reference was to gender, rather than individuals in general. Similarly, where the presentation stated that: “When you're born you will be one of three things: male; female; intersex. This is your biological sex”, it was not inaccurate to report that the school had taught that there were three biological sexes. The article was not inaccurate on these points, and there was therefore no breach of Clause 1.   

13. Where LGBT Youth Scotland engaged in letter writing campaigns and meetings with MSPs in order to influence government policy, the Committee did not consider it inaccurate to refer to the group as a lobby group. Similarly, where For Women Scotland was a group that engaged in campaigning activity, it was not inaccurate to refer to them as a campaign group. The Committee also acknowledged that, whilst the complainant considered language in the article to be “charged”, this was not an alleged inaccuracy that could been considered under Clause 1. It also noted that the article did not refer to children becoming trans as a result of learning about gender identities, and therefore the article was not inaccurate in the manner suggested by the complainant on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to these points.

14. The terms of Clause 12 relate to irrelevant, prejudicial, or pejorative references to the protected characteristics of specific individuals. Where the concerns raised by the complainant under the terms of Clause 12 did not relate to this, the terms of the Clause were not engaged and there was no breach.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 24/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/09/2023