The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by the publication of an article headed “THURSDAY CHATTERBOX” by The Daily Telegraph on 2 May 2019 online. The article described a “case of a US teacher fired due to a trans violation” and said a teacher in America was fired after a “split second decision to call a trans student ‘her’”. It said: “The student was reportedly about to walk into a wall when the teacher instinctively said ‘stop her’. And so his ridiculous fight to keep his job began. That’s it … ‘stop her’, and a man’s livelihood is under fire. Those split-second safety calls are always problematic”.
The article included a thumbnail to a video on YouTube with the words “look out faggot” appearing twice, once in prominent capital letters. The video playable in the thumbnail was of a scene from a television sitcom in which a man sees a piano about to fall on another man walking down a pavement and yells “look out faggot” in an apparent attempt to save the other man while quickly moving to push the man out of its path, narrowly saving him from injury.
In response to a complaint the Council asked the publication to comment on whether the material breached the Standards of Practice requiring publications to take reasonable steps to avoid contributing to substantial offence, distress, prejudice or risk to health and safety unless sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6).
The publication said the article is a satirical opinion piece written in the columnist’s typical style and noted that the video clip is from a popular US comedy series. The publication said that, in the situation reported in the article, the teacher instinctively yelled "stop her" to prevent a student who identified as male from walking into a wall and lost his employment due to this. It said that a problematic word was used in the situation reported in the article and in the video, but that this was used in an urgent attempt to prevent physical injury. The publication said the article was also making the point that it was a case of life imitating art.
The Council notes that the word “faggot” is most used as a pejorative term to describe gay men. The Council considers that, notwithstanding the satirical nature of the article, the inclusion of the word in the thumbnail and in the video itself could be read as demeaning and mocking of gay men and, as the article referred to a “trans violation”, to others with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. The Council concludes that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice, and there was no sufficient public interest in doing so. Accordingly, General Principle 6 was breached in this respect.
Relevant Council Standards
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
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.
Note – “Sufficiently in the public interest”: The necessary level of justification in the public interest is proportionate to the gravity of the potential breach of the Principles. Relevant factors to consider may include, for example, the importance in the public interest of: (a) ensuring everyone has genuine freedom of expression and access to reliable information; (b) protecting and enhancing independent and vigorous media; public safety and health; due administration of justice and government, personal privacy, and national security; (c) exposing or preventing crime, dishonesty and serious misconduct or incompetence (especially by public figures).”