The article began “The transgender sister of” a named football player “allegedly killed her boyfriend”. The article identified the woman by name and the Sydney suburb involved. It reported that the man allegedly died from injuries to his head and face. It said the woman appeared in court with swelling to her face and bruising under one of her eyes and had been charged with manslaughter and “aggravated enter dwelling with intent”. The article included a photograph of the woman and her brother. The charges were later withdrawn.
The Council asked the publication to comment on whether, given the prominent identification of the woman as transgender, the publication took reasonable steps to comply with the Council’s Standards of Practice. These require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material was presented with fairness and balance (General Principle 3) and to provide a fair opportunity for a reply where necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3 (General Principle 4). They also require publications to take reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6).
The publication said the article contained only one reference to the woman being transgender which was factually accurate, relevant and presented in a neutral manner in establishing her identity for the reader. This was appropriate in the same way other persons are identified in articles by their identifying features, including their gender. The publication said the woman was openly transgender and identified herself in that way publicly on social media. It said that care was taken to ensure that the woman’s gender identity was not a substantial focus of the article.
The publication said the article did not seek to link the woman being transgender with the allegations against her, nor make any broader suggestion about transgender persons. The article did not suggest being transgender was a negative quality. The publication noted that the woman herself had not complained about the article. It said that other publications had published similar articles about the events which also identified the woman as transgender.
The Council has for a long period considered that publications should exercise great care to not place unwarranted emphasis on characteristics of individuals such as race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age.
The Council accepts that the woman had publicly stated on social media accounts that she was transgender. However, the Council notes the woman was already identified in the article by name and photograph, as was her brother. The man who had died, and the suburb involved were also identified by name. The Council considers that it was not relevant to the alleged criminal acts reported to identify the woman as being transgender. Although it provided some further identification of the woman, it was not necessary to do so. The Council considers that as being transgender was not relevant to the alleged criminality, prominently identifying the woman as transgender in the first sentence of the article could contribute to substantial prejudice towards transgender people.
The Council notes that General Principle 3 requires publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance. The Council considers that, although being transgender was not relevant to the alleged criminality, on balance the publication took reasonable steps to ensure the presentation of factual material in the article was reasonably fair and balanced. Accordingly, the Council concludes the publication complied with General Principles 3 and 4.
However, given the woman’s transgender status was not relevant to the alleged criminality, identifying her as such in the first sentence of the article could lead some readers to conclude that this characteristic was either the cause of, or a factor in, the alleged crime and could contribute to substantial prejudice against transgender people. The Council considers that in prominently identifying the woman as transgender the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid contributing to substantial prejudice and that there was no sufficient public interest justifying doing so. Accordingly the Council concludes that the publication breached General Principle 6.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication)
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
4. Ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3.
6. Avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.