The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article published online by the Daily Mail Australia titled “EXCLUSIVE: Transgender sister, 31, of football star is charged with manslaughter over the death of her boyfriend, 51, after ‘domestic violence’ incident at a house in Sydney’s south” on 21 May 2018 and updated on 22 May 2018.
The article reported that a named woman, the sister of a named rugby league player, had been charged with manslaughter following the death of a named man with whom she had been in a relationship. The article said that the publication understood the named woman “a transgender woman, had been involved in an “on and off” relationship” with the named man. It also said the woman described herself on social media accounts as transgender and the article included her post “#transgender #transisbeautiful”, although it was not suggested her transgender status was of particular relevance to any of the events described. The article included several photographs of the woman and a photograph of her with her brother. The article named the suburb where the man had died and said a neighbour heard “a woman yelling” followed by “a ‘loud bang’”. The charges were later withdrawn.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 that as stated in the article, the woman publicly and proudly described herself as transgender on her publicly open social media accounts and that the references in the article to her being transgender were not used extensively or in a demeaning or disrespectful manner. The publication said that the description of the woman as transgender was factually accurate and the publication had referred to the woman in that way to identify her and to use another word would ignore how she identifies herself. The publication said it acknowledged that there is a spectrum of gender identities and it supports all expressions of gender identity.
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 headline and again in 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 headline and again in 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.