When “Balance!” sounds like “Silence!

23Jun20

When JK Rowling, one of the UK’s most famous and celebrated female writers wrote her tweets about ‘People who menstruate’ on the evening of Saturday June 6, it set off a twitter storm which was quickly picked up by media around the world.

The BBC reported nothing.

Early in the evening of Wednesday January 10th Rowling published her “TERF Wars” essay.

Still the BBC said nothing.

Only when actors Eddie Redmayne and Daniel Radcliffe criticised did the BBC report on it.

Now a group of 150 trans rights activists and 3 MPs, led by Helen Belcher and Jane Fae of Trans Media Watch have written an open letter to Kamal Ahmed, Editorial Director, BBC News to say the BBC is “institutionally transphobic” in its coverage, citing its treatment of the JK Rowling story as evidence.

They say the article the BBC published headlining criticism of JK Rowling demonstrates a “lack of balance” and is problematic in referencing “why she made the post she did”:

“It seems very clear that the BBC is dealing with trans issues in a way it should never contemplate dealing with issues relating to any protected characteristic under the Equality Act. You are treating the lives and existence of a significant minority not as a matter of dignity or Human Rights, but as a culture war within which your anti-trans journalists – and we are well aware that such exist at the BBC – are given free rein to take potshots at trans people. Along the way, you are applying a new and different standard to the writing of stories with a trans angle. This is the very definition of institutional discrimination and hatred and it is time it stopped.”

Letter signed by 150 activists

The letter demands that “official trans bodies” be given a “right of reply” on any story “with a trans angle”.

The letter also complains about a report by BBC LGBT correspondent Ben Hunte about a cross party statement from trans activists.

The BBC article included comments from Colm Howard Lloyd, chair of LGBT+ Conservatives, Melantha Chittenden and Heather Peto, co-chairs of LGBT+ Labour, Benali Hamdache and Chandler Wilson, co-chairs of the LGBTIQA+ Greens, Josh Aaron Mennie of the SNP’s LGBT wing.

The initial version of the article contained several errors such as saying the “Equality Act 2010 allows any trans person who has transitioned to be recognised as their acquired gender.” and that that people covered by the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” can only be excluded from services provided for members of the opposite sex “on a case by-case basis”. When Fairplay for Women pointed out these errors the BBC partially corrected them. (The letter calls correcting these factual mistakes responding to” complaints from anti-trans ideologues”)

The original article also included a quote from feminist writer and human rights activist Joan Smith cribbed from an earlier Women’s Hour broadcast (where Helen Belcher also took part, but they were interviewed separately because Belcher refused to take part in a discussion with Smith).

When making the corrections the BBC also got a proper quote from Joan Smith, responding to the cross party letter:

“‘No-one has proposed to take away rights and protection from trans men and women – the situation is exactly as it was last week. It looks as though ministers intend to maintain the current system of regulation for the process of getting a new birth certificate, which is one of many processes regulated by the state. In April, Liz Truss talked about the importance of single-sex spaces, but that might simply mean clarifying the exemptions that already exist under the 2010 Equality Act. Many women welcome that as well, and I think its important to base this discussion on what’s actually happened, instead of a very emotional species of speculation.”

Joan Smith

It was this quote from Joan Smith that the 150 signatories said was unacceptable and a sign of institutional transphobia. “The correct “balance”” in such a piece they say would be for no dissenting women to be given a voice.

The people condemning the BBC for including any dissenting women’s voices in the debate on how the law should deal with sex and gender include Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, deputy leader of the SNP in Westminster Kirsty Blackman, and Stewart McDonald MP along with academics such Dr Natacha Kennedy, Goldsmiths College, Dr Ruth Pearce, University of Leeds, Alison Phipps, Professor of Gender Studies, Sussex University, and Susie Green CEO of Mermaids and James Morton, Manager, Scottish Trans Alliance.

Meanwhile women from across the political parties issuing statements on this issue have been studiously ignored by the BBC.

The fact that the BBC didn’t report on JK Rowling’s tweets at all in the first instance suggests that it is indeed taking a new and different standard to the writing of stories ‘with a trans angle’, one that is already more timid than the culture of ordinary journalism.

The fact that the BBC’s dedicated LGBT correspondent can get basic facts about the Equality Act wrong, two years into a major political debate about the law on sex and gender, suggests that this approach is not working for journalistic quality and integrity.

In any case this level of timidity is not enough for Trans Media Watch, who will mobilise a 150 person letter if you so much as include one careful, measured quote from a woman who disagrees.

Journalists and media organisations have two choices when faced with such bullying: stand up or roll over.




3 Responses to “When “Balance!” sounds like “Silence!”

  1. 1 Born this way

    Hi TERF

  2. “You are treating the lives and existence of a significant minority not as a matter of dignity or Human Rights, but as a culture war”. Their collective lack of self awareness is evident in the fact they had the effrontery to say that – presumably with a straight face.

    They owe me a new Irony-o-meter.

  3. She has a right to express her view however as a cisgender female who is also friends with a couple of trans people, we should be welcoming and accepting of everyone.

    Trans women are women, though it seems that society has jst begun moving in the direction to realize this. Therefore they have the right to use single sex facilities just like everyone else does, and we should act inclusively.


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