Trans media watchdog dismayed at Ofcom report

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A media watchdog which promotes better representation of trans people has criticised Ofcom’s research into attitudes towards offensive language.

Campaign group Trans Media Watch welcomed Ofcom’s recently published findings but said it had ‘significant misgivings’ about the project’s research methodology.

The broadcast regulator’s report – ‘Audience attitudes towards offensive language on television and radio’ – has stimulated strong reaction across the media and various interest groups.

Audience responses to offensive language were last investigated by the regulator in 2005.

TMW welcomed the inclusion of trans people within the sample study, saying it was a first for an exercise of this type.

Ofcom’s findings show that many participants lacked sufficient knowledge and understanding of transgender issues to judge the offensiveness of trans-directed language.

But while noting the unacceptability of the word ‘tranny’ to the transgender audience sample, TMW believes the findings lack gravitas.

A statement from TMW said: “Even within the qualitative setting, the value of one focus group of MtF transsexual people (numbering no more than six respondents) and one in depth interview with a FtM transsexual person is, in our view, bordering on methodologically worthless.

“Such a tiny sub sample can produce no more than anecdotal findings at best. With such a small sample, it is impossible to achieve the important variety of experience that creates robustness in findings.”

But Ofcom director of standards Chris Banatvala told PinkNews he rejected the criticism: “Our research was specifically designed to be an analysis of what words people find potentially offensive on television and radio but more importantly to find out why people find certain words offensive.

“We have never sought to claim it represents the views of any particular section, or of society as a whole.”

The research also garnered Stonewall’s disapproval after the results showed respondents perceived “queer”, “lezza” and “poof” as acceptable terms for use by broadcasters.

Chris Banatvala insists this is an incorrect interpretation of the report.

He said: “I really can’t emphasise enough that our research did not conclude that any words relating to gay people such as “queer”, “lezza” and “poof” were somehow acceptable to be broadcast carte blanche. As always – and confirmed by the research – it is the context in which words are used that is the key to understanding whether certain words will cause offence.”

The report’s publication coincides with a BBC investigation into coverage of bisexual, lesbian and gay people on the corporations broadcast and online content.

Announced at the start of the year, the initiative will not look at how trans people are represented.

Stressing the need to consult trans people in policy making, TMW urged Ofcom and other media organisations to refer to their 2010 quantitative study ‘How Transgender People Experience the Media’.

The research, conducted earlier this year, show that 78 per cent of those questioned felt portrayals of trans people in the media were either inaccurate or highly inaccurate. In total, 250 trans people took part.