The media regulator IPSO published new guidance last month on the reporting of sex and gender identity. They took baby steps away from the previous position, which was largely informed by trans activist groups. We have no quibble with the general principle that gender identity should not be reported where it is not relevant to a story. Of course we agree, since gender identity has no relevance for most people in most situations. The problem is that newspapers have been reporting claimed gender as if it were a person’s sex. All our complaints fell on deaf ears because the IPSO position is that no one can challenge the resulting inaccuracy except the person who has been incorrectly sexed – and they’re not likely to.
The new guidance dares to point out that sex and gender identity are two different things and should not be conflated. We welcomed this in our response to IPSO. We hope this gives licence for those outlets which intend to publish accurate stories. But the early signs are that there is confusion. Here is the same news story reported by two different regional news outlets. One says Samantha Norris is a man (scroll down to 12 August to see the post), the other says he is female and a woman. What are people supposed to believe? This kind of nonsense has been undermining people’s trust in what they read for some years now. When you see headlines about women exposing themselves, you think, hold on, women don’t do that. Signs are that IPSO have more work to do if they want to restore public trust.
It’s of note that the Hampshire police statement didn’t mention the sex of the offender at all, or use sexed pronouns. In one sense this is a failure, because the female name is misleading. They know he is a he but won’t say so. But it’s a recognition that calling trans-identifying males by their claimed gender and preferred pronouns is not a neutral act without consequences. Some local media took the same approach, avoiding misleading statements while not explicitly stating the facts. Another baby step in the right direction, back to honesty and common sense.