19th June 2023
jane fae: Press regulators can do more to help the trans community

jane fae: Press regulators can do more to help the trans community

This is a guest blog published by an external stakeholder on the Impress website. If you are interested in writing your own, please email louie@impressorg.com.

jane fae is Chair of Trans Media Watch, an organisation dedicated to encouraging the accurate and respectful reporting of trans people, and a Director of TransActual UK.

She is a feminist, journalist and campaigner on political and sexual liberty who also knows a bit about IT, the law and policing. You can also find her amusing audiences with her alternative stand-up routine: Tranz Rantz.

fae has written extensively for national media, including the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Independent, as well as more niche publications, such as GayStarNews, Diva (LGBT), the Register and OpenDemocracy (IT and Privacy) and Freedom in a Puritan Age (Free speech and censorship).

Her most recent book, Transition Denied, looks at the life and untimely death of a young trans woman failed by the system. Her previous book, Taming the Beast, is a comprehensive look at the history of the regulation of online “smut”: a work that has since been widely cited in academic research on the topic.

Over the last few years, jane’s work has increasingly focused on the operation of the law insofar as it impacts on minority groups. She is concerned with issues of Violence Against Women and is involved in developing policies for social media that balance protection for the individual with freedom of speech.

In this guest blog marking Pride Month 2023, jane shares her honest thoughts on how the trans community is represented in the media, how Impress are looking to tackle discrimination, and what still needs to change.

By jane fae, Chair of TransMediaWatch

One day I will write a piece that praises the UK press for its fearless independence; its willingness to expose real issues; and for its readiness to stand up for minorities against bigotry. Sadly, today is not that day. Also, while Impress titles are far and away the lesser part of the problem, they are not innocent of these failings.

In 2012, the UK media published around 60 articles about trans people. Last year, it published somewhere in the region of 7,500. The precise figures are hard to substantiate, because identifying and cataloguing such pieces is not an exact science. However, the trend is clear.

The majority of these were loaded, hostile, and negative. From day-to-day conversations with members of the trans community, it is clear that this narrative is having an effect. Trans people are suffering in terms of mental health. Many are now looking to leave the country.

More published pieces on trans people than there are trans people with gender recognition certificates is at best an obsession; at worst it is a calculated campaign to foment hate.

Part of the problem, beside the obsession, is that in most cases, the papers involved – such as many of the UK’s most popular and widely circulated publications – are doing nothing that can be called into question by the ruling codes. Historically, the two major media codes (IPSO and Impress) read more like libel avoidance than anything designed to promote decency in reporting.

This means legal bodies (such as corporations as well as named individuals) had extensive protection against inaccurate content. Minorities, and other more nebulous groups, had no such protection. Yes: discrimination could be a factor in adjudicating complaints. But only after the initial accuracy breach.

This is why you will see so many references in mainstream media to “Trans Rights Activists”. Who are they? Can anyone apply to join? Or is a “TRA”, as it is often abbreviated, just anyone trans who stands up for their rights. Sorry: hold that! According to IPSO, a comment assigned to a “TRA” doesn’t actually have to be a comment made by any individual. It just needs to be the sort of thing the pubic would expect a trans activist to say.

jane fae, Chair of Trans Media Watch, wants to see regulators do more to protect trans people. (Credit: jane fae)

You could not make it up! Unless you are following the IPSO Code.

What is interesting and, as yet, largely untested, is that in its latest Code Revision, Impress seems to have gone some way to addressing this issue. Specifically, Clause 4.3 warns against “content likely to encourage hatred or abuse against any group based on their characteristics”. It also warns against indirect discrimination where one group is treated differently from another.

Early days. But hopeful.

Beyond that, one of the main issues is how print and online media are utterly selective in what they choose to report on about the trans community. Take “regret” for instance. Regret rate for gender-related surgery, according to more than one peer-reviewed study, is of the order of 1%-4%. Regret rate for major procedures (such as hip and knee replacements) generally tend to be in double figures.

Who knew? And if we are to be consistent, should we not now be demanding waiting periods for the latter surgeries so folks are totally sure before they go ahead?

I’d be first to own that trans folk can be as “mad, bad or sad” as anyone else. However, to read the national press right now, it would be hard to find evidence that we are anything else. A little bit of balance would be nice.

National news has created a perfect circle. Invent a panic. Reinforce panic with bad takes from the panicked. Justify reporting such codswallop with the claim that everyone is talking about the object of aforementioned panic.

I am consoled by the fact that Impress has taken the first baby steps to rectifying this injustice. But the proof of the pudding – not to mention the Standards Code – lies in the eating and, at risk of mixing metaphors beyond all that is reasonable: I have yet to taste the new improved Impress Code in action!

About Impress 

Impress is a champion for news that can be trusted. We are here to make sure news providers can publish with integrity; and the public can engage in an ever-changing media landscape with confidence. We set the highest regulatory standards for news, offer education to help people make informed choices and provide resolution when disputes arise. 

Media enquiries

Louie Chandler: louie@impressorg.com / 02033076778