Thursday, 27 December 2012

My complaint to the PCC about Mr Littlejohn's transphobic DM article



Link to the original article here


Although I am not the named complainant whose privacy was infringed in the article, I would like this complaint to be considered from someone whose life particularly affected by the publication of this and similar articles. I have a material interest in this publication and it, and similar articles negatively affect me personally in my day-to-day life on a daily basis. As such I argue that it should be given consideration at a level close to that of Miss Meadows complaint herself.

The following are the clauses in the editors' code of practice which Mr Littlejohn and the Daily Mail have breached

"All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards."

"It is essential that an agreed code be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit. It should not be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual"

"The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures."

"The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact."

"Privacy

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information."

This article failed to uphold high professional standards by any measure whatsoever. In particular it failed to publish accurate information about children's responses to transgender people. There are no studies which suggest that the presence of trans people cause children any problems whatsoever. My own published, peer-reviewed research (attachment 1) shows that around 80% of trans people knew they were trans before they left primary school, they have only been troubled by others' - normally teachers or other children's parents - failure to accept them as trans.

My paper's findings have subsequently been supported by Riley, Clemson, Sitharthan & Diamond (2012) "Surviving a Gender Variant Childhood: The views of transgender adults on the needs of gender variant children and their parents" (http://www.hawaii.edu/PCSS/biblio/articles/2010to2014/2012-surviving-gender-variant-childhood.html)

Not only that but Brill & Pepper (2008) The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Professionals and Families provide strong evidence that trans people are unproblematically accepted in their new gender.

Hinton, K. (2008) “A transgender story: from birth to secondary school”. In Invisible boundaries: addressing sexualities equalities in children’s worlds DePalma R. and E. Atkinson (eds) has shown how children in a Roman Catholic primary school accepted a transgender child unproblematically despite, at that time having no support or advice organisations to turn to as there are today.

In addition the following videos show that transgender children are easily accepted by their peers;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S5usRgY720

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AelO2L4HneE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mYvj6bEpQM


My own studies are additionally proceeding involving transgender children in their schools as participants, only because of the threat of their exposure to the media by newspapers like the Daily Mail and correspondents like Mr Littlejohn in particular, I am having to work very hard to ensure that my research participants are kept out of the reach of the media and that they and their schools are anonymised. However I can confirm that these children's peers accepted them unproblematically.

In addition I taught in a primary school where, in 2004, we had a transgender child who transitioned unproblematically from male to female without any press publicity and with no problems from other children in the school, she has now successfully finished her secondary education.

In Mr Littlejohn's article he strongly infers that children will be upset and confused by the presence of a transgender teacher, yet I personally know a number of transgender teachers (who have very skillfully and successfully been able to keep their transitions out of the media) who have not had any problem with children in primary schools. I know of openly transgender primary school supply teachers who cause the children no stress and who have constantly been re-employed by a large number of primary schools. I myself, an openly transgender woman have visited a number primary schools to give diversity training with no problems.

Yet by carefully reading Mr Littlejohn's article it is clear that all he is reporting on are the fears, neuroses or biases of one parent who reported that his child was troubled by it. Yet anyone who has had any experience of parents knows that this parent is clearly causing this child's upset himself, not Miss Meadows.

"Parent Wayne Cowie said the news had left his ten-year-old son worried and confused."

Yet Mr Littlejohn, from the say-so of one individual, suggests that all children will be troubled by this.

"The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.
It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats."

Yet his assumptions demonstrate clearly that he has failed to properly research the subject before publishing this article. My own research and that of Riley et al, clearly demonstrates that this is not an issue relating to adult life, being transgender is an issue for children, since the overwhelming majority of trans people realise they are trans before they leave primary school.

Here also Mr Littlejohn has failed to keep fact an opinion clearly seperated; there is a wealth of research demonstrating that children accept trans people very easily, especially primary school children, it is adults who have the problem. Mr Littlejohn has failed in his duty as a journalist to do the most basic research, research which would have contradicted what he published in his article. This is not merely bad journalism, it is a breach of the code both in spirit and letter, as the preamble explicitly states. He has given the impression that children become confused and stressed by the presence of a transgender person, however this is simply not the case. He has, as such breached the letter of the code and breached the spirit of the code also, both of which are important.

This is an important issue for transgender people because it is articles like Mr Littlejohn's, coupled with the Daily Mail's obsession with transgender people (Trans Media Watch has documented dozens, if not hundreds of articles about trans people), which result in many transgender children, and their parents, being fearful of coming out at school. This is something which actively harms their education because of the internal stress it causes. However, as a transgender teacher who has had to leave teaching in order to come out as trans, I know that it harms this group of people also. I have spoken to a number of trans primary school teachers who have either not come out as teachers or have experienced discrimination, largely by senior management or parents as the result of coming out as trans.

Articles such as this, which breach an individual's right to privacy are effectively bullying trans people not to come out. Miss Meadows privacy has been breached in an unjustifiable way. Here I can anticipate the editor of the Daily Mail's response that "Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information", since Miss Meadows let it be known in the school newsletter that she was changing gender. However, this defence is simply not sustainable. The circulation of the school newsletter was intended for parents of children in that school only and was clearly included in such a way which asserts that she did not wish a huge amount of publicity. In effect Miss Meadows was doing what she needed to to to inform parents and pupils. This is something all teachers have to do, people who transition in other jobs do this also but usually do not have to do so to such a large number of people who are their clients.

So Mr Littlejohn's article, and the Daily Mail's intrusion into Miss Meadows' life at what is clearly a particularly sensitive time cannot be justified either in terms of her own public disclosures or the public interest. In fact people such as myself and other transgender teachers would like to have these issues discussed in the media, but they do not need to involve intruding on the lives of trans people to do that. This is an issue which can easily be covered without invasions of privacy, as such there can be no public interest defence for this invasion of privacy.

The publication of this article has occured shortly after the publication of Leveson, yet it is written as if Leveson had not happened. This suggests that the press is returning to its old ways very quickly. If the newspaper industry's own proposals for its own self regulation are to be credible then this article needs to be censured by the PCC. Failure to act, and to act quickly and decisively in this instance will seriously undermine any claims the industry has to being able to regulate itself and will represent evidence that the proposed body will allow newspapers to continue in the way they did prior to the News of the World scandals.
                  

1 comment:

  1. Extremely well argued case against the Daily Mail and Mr. Littlejohn for the PCC Natasha. I really wish you well with this complaint, but I fear that they will, as always, simply hide behind their own code and refuse to take action as you are not the named person in the article.
    It will be extremely interesting to see how they will react to such a powerful complaint, a real test especially in light of Lord Leveson's report and recommendations.

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