The basic points:
- the complaint was about a S*n column (significant as the notorious Jan Moir column which abused Stephen Gately on the day of his funeral was deemed acceptable as an opinion piece) which mocked a trans woman, Emily Brothers
- the complaint came from a third party (pressure group Trans Media Watch), NOT Brothers (again, something the PCC generally refused to accept) - IPSO will do so if they consider there to be a wider, "substantial public interest"
- The S*n took steps which the PCC would likely have accepted: offered Brothers a column to respond, and issued an apology from Liddle - ironically, it was the apology which was the clincher; Liddle was deemed to have repeated his mockery, using Emily's former male name, and the paper itself had refused to accept that it/Liddle had been transphobic
- IPSO forced The S*n to publish their ruling
Sun columnist Rod Liddle has been censured by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) for crudely mocking a woman’s gender identity and her disability.
Having upheld a complaint against the newspaper, Ipso required it to publish its ruling on the same page as Liddle’s column. It appears today at the foot of his latest column and online.
It should be seen as a landmark decision because it is the first complaint Ipso has accepted from a representative group rather than an individual.
Under its rules, Ipso may consider such complaints if “an alleged breach of the editors’ code is significant” and there is a “substantial public interest” for doing so.
The complaint against Liddle was made by Trans Media Watch, which acted with the consent of Emily Brothers. It contended that items in Liddle’s columns on 11 December 2014 and 15 January 2015 discriminated against Brothers because of prejudicial and pejorative references to her disability and gender.
In the first instance, Liddle reported that Brothers was hoping to become Labour’s first blind transgendered MP by standing for election in Sutton and Cheam. “Being blind”, he wrote, “how did she know she was the wrong sex?”
When Trans Media Watch complained to the Sun about the remark, the paper accepted that it was tasteless but denied that it was prejudicial or pejorative. It did not accept that Liddle had criticised Brothers or suggested anything negative or stereotypical about her blindness or gender identity. Instead, it had been a clumsy attempt at humour.
So it issued an apology from the columnist and offered Brothers a column. She took up the offer and her article was published on 15 December.
But Liddle’s apology, published a month later, compounded the hurt. He conceded that he had “made a poor joke in bad taste” about Brothers and that it “was particularly lame… a poor joke... even if it wasn’t meant maliciously”.But he went on to use her former name and the way he worded the item was regarded by Trans Media Watch as a deliberate attempt to humiliate Brothers amounting to further discrimination.
In its defence, the Sun said it had reviewed its editorial processes and introduced a new policy requiring all copy relating to transgender matters to be approved by its managing editor before publication.
It told Ipso that its apology, and the fact it gave Brothers space to respond, were adequate remedies for the hurt. It would therefore be disproportionate for Ipso to uphold the complaint.
Ipso disagreed. It regarded the initial column as discriminatory and although it welcomed the paper’s response it said its denial that it had breached the editors’ code gave force to Trans Media Watch’s complaint. Ipso was entitled to adjudicate on the matter.
Ipso’s complaints committee did not accept that Liddle’s apology was genuine because he had used it as an opportunity for a further attempt at humour at the expense of Brothers.
Following a column published in The Sun on 11 December 2014, Trans MediaWatch, acting with the consent of Emily Brothers, complained to theIndependent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun had discriminatedagainst Ms Brothers and breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’Code of Practice by publishing a prejudicial and pejorative reference to herdisability and gender.
IPSO established a breach of the Code and required The Sun to publish thisdecision as a remedy. Noting that Emily Brothers, who is blind and transgender, was standing for election as an MP, the columnist asked “being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex”.
The complainant said the comment made the discriminatory suggestion that there were limitations to the understanding blind people could have of themselves and called into question Ms Brothers’ gender identity. The newspaper accepted that the comment was tasteless, but denied that it was prejudicial or pejorative.
It did not accept that the columnist had criticised Ms Brothers or suggestedanything negative or stereotypical about her blindness or gender identity;rather, it had been a clumsy attempt at humour. Nonetheless, it regretted any distress the article had caused Ms Brothers, and published an apology by the columnist. It outlined changes it had made to its editorial processes in response to the complaint.
IPSO’s Complaints Committee ruled that the column belittled Ms Brothers, hergender identity and her disability, mocking her for no other reason thanthese perceived “differences”. Regardless of the columnist’s intentions, this was not a matter of taste; it was discriminatory and unacceptable under the Code. The apology published by the newspaper did not remedy this breach of the Code, and IPSO therefore upheld the complaint.