The Sun newspaper hit back yesterday at claims that it had failed to mend its ways in respect of its treatment of the UK’s trans community, defending its attempts to locate the trans man who had given birth as being “in the public interest”.
Speaking exclusively to Jane Fae, for Pink News, Interim Managing Editor David Dinsmore asserted that restrictions on reporting in this case were in danger of shackling the freedom of the press to report.
Controversy arose earlier this week with publication in the Sunday Times of a story that a UK trans man had had a child. A number of newspapers began a hunt for the individuals concerned, with the Sun newspaper allegedly being most aggressive in its pursuit, harassing trans organisations and prominent trans community members, as well as setting up a hotline and publically offering a reward to anyone who gave them details.
Helen Belcher, Treasurer of Trans Media Watch then wrote to the Press Complaints Commission suggesting that this conduct both belied claims by Sun Managing Director Dominic Mohan to the Leveson Inquiry last week, that the Sun has “mended its ways”, and either breached, or potentially breached the Editors’ Code of Conduct in four separate ways.
Ms Belcher was particularly concerned at the effect of this search on the child involved. The PCC then backed Ms Belcher by writing to the Sun warning them to tread carefully in their handling of this story.
Today, the Sun’s Interim Managing Editor, David Dinsmore responded in full with a letter to the PCC. In it, he broadly accepted the facts as above, but rejected claims that the Sun’s actions in any way amounted to harassment or intrusion.
The Sun responds: a story in the public domain
He also spoke personally, to give his own version of events and to comment. He said: “Our impression is that this story was placed in the public domain by the Beaumont Society, which is a well-known Transgender support organisation. Normal journalistic practice now would be to find the person concerned and offer them the opportunity to comment by way of an interview.
“This we have attempted to do by placing calls with Mermaids and GIRES and, since they have not come back, by asking the public for help. We have not harassed or pestered anyone.
“The story itself is of public interest – although the identity of the individual is not necessarily. Whether we would identify the individual in this case would depend wholly on the circumstances. I can’t say yes or no categorically.
Privacy cannot be sacrosanct
“What if the person also turned out to be a serial killer? There can be no guarantees either way. More likely, if it was NHS funded, that could put a different light on it. There is no easy answer.
“However, I can say that there would be a huge amount of internal debate and this would not JUST be done to out the individual.
“In respect of the child involved, that would also be taken into consideration. In general, however, we would be far less likely to publish pictures of, say, a five-year-old, who is easily recognisable than of a baby.
Sensitivity must be balanced against the freedom of the press
Mr Dinsmore was not prepared to concede that sensitivity to a community automatically led to a news black-out on that community’s activities. He said: “I want to protect the press from a blanket ban on going down this road. I want to defend the rights of journalists and newspapers to examine matters of public interest, and there is a danger, post-Leveson, that this could happen.
He also expressed some degree of concern at the effect on the wider trans community. Admitting that he thought most trans individuals would already be known to their local communities, he added: “I can’t see a risk of people not directly related to this story being outed by the media. That is a danger: but again, I do not believe that the media should be shackled on basis of possible collateral damage.
“Free speech and a free press are also important”.
As for whether the Sun newspaper had changed its ways, Mr Dinsmore felt it had: “Trans stories are becoming more commonplace. Their news value is diminishing and therefore the sort of story made public is increasingly going to be at the edges. This particular story was news, because it revealed details of something that impacts on public policy and of which the public was unaware. In future, it might be that the individual would need to be having twins before it is published.
He ended: “What is clear is that the way the Sun treats and deals with these things is a world away from where it was. Trans stories are no longer “nudge, nudge”: a laugh and a joke. We have moved to a much more sensitive place.”
In a separate development today, a spokeswoman for leading trans action group, Trans Panthers UK revealed how a trans man whose sister had recently given birth was today hounded out of his workplace by fellow workers threatening to “out” him in return for the reward offered by the Sun newspaper.
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