Press watchdog slams Sun over column mocking blind transgender candidate

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The press regulator has upheld complaints against The Sun over a newspaper column that mocked a blind, transgender Labour Parliamentary candidate.

In his column earlier this year, Sun columnist Rod Liddle poked fun at Emily Brothers – who made history as the Labour party’s first transgender candidate – asking: “Being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex?”

Following a complaint about the column submitted by Trans Media Watch, the Independent Press Standards Organisation this week censured the newspaper, forcing it to print a clarification.

IPSO found that even though Mr Liddle apologised for the comments in a later column, his original remarks were still in violation of the press code of conduct.

The body found: “The first column’s crude suggestion that Ms Brothers could only have become aware of her gender by seeing its physical manifestations was plainly wrong. It belittled Ms Brothers, her gender identity and her disability, mocking her for no reason other than these perceived ‘differences’.

“Regardless of the columnist’s intentions, this was not a matter of taste; it was discriminatory and therefore unacceptable under the terms of the code.”

It also ordered the Sun to print a clarification, that reads:

Following a column published in The Sun on 11 December 2014, Trans Media Watch, acting with the consent of Emily Brothers, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun had discriminated against Ms Brothers and breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by publishing a prejudicial and pejorative reference to her disability and gender.

IPSO established a breach of the Code and required The Sun to publish this decision as a remedy.

Noting that Emily Brothers, who is blind and transgender, was standing for election as an MP, the columnist asked “being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex”.

The complainant said the comment made the discriminatory suggestion that there were limitations to the understanding blind people could have of themselves and called into question Ms Brothers’ gender identity.

The newspaper accepted that the comment was tasteless, but denied that it was prejudicial or pejorative.

It did not accept that the columnist had criticised Ms Brothers or suggested anything negative or stereotypical about her blindness or gender identity; rather, it had been a clumsy attempt at humour.

Nonetheless, it regretted any distress the article had caused Ms Brothers, and published an apology by the columnist.

It outlined changes it had made to its editorial processes in response to the complaint.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee ruled that the column belittled Ms Brothers, her gender identity and her disability, mocking her for no other reason than these perceived “differences”.

Regardless of the columnist’s intentions, this was not a matter of taste; it was discriminatory and unacceptable under the Code.

The apology published by the newspaper did not remedy this breach of the Code, and IPSO therefore upheld the complaint.

Ms Brothers, who is currently recovering from heart surgery, told PinkNews in a statement: “I welcome IPSO’s finding that the comment piece by Rod Liddle in the Sun was wrong, upholding the case that the mocking of my gender identity and disability was prejudicial and pejorative.

“I’m pleased that IPSO has supported our claim. That is certainly a success, as newspapers should now be clear that they don’t have free-reign to show contempt for people who are different in some way, by using pejorative or prejudicial language.”

However, she added that she was disappointed that the newspaper was only required to print a clarification, and not a formal apology.

She added: “Politicians need to take the knocks, so I’ve been able to dismiss Rod Liddle’s comment piece as ridiculous.

“My central concern is how other transgender people and their families feel about these comments, particularly those who are going through the transitioning process and are fearful of other people’s reactions and fearful of being ridiculed.

“I would like to thank Trans Media Watch, dozens of organisations and thousands of people who have given me support. They have done so because of our shared believe that injustice should be challenged.”