BBC says it’s ‘misleading’ to call JK Rowling’s trans views ‘unpopular’

JK Rowling arrives at the "Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore" world premiere

The BBC has said it is “misleading” to say that JK Rowling’s deeply anti-trans views are “unpopular”.

During a 24 March episode of Front Row on BBC Radio 4, journalist Tom Sutcliffe said Rowling’s views are “unpopular” as he discussed so-called “cancel culture”.

But a listener complained about this to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (EC), saying it is “misleading” to say this about the Harry Potter author. And the unit agreed on Thursday (26 May).

Sutcliffe was interviewing philosopher Erich Hatala Matthews about his new book, Drawing the Line, which explores whether an artist can be separated from their art.

Rowling, Matthews wrote in his book, is a textbook example of this. Countless Harry Potter and other Wizarding World fans have sought to distance themselves from Rowling since she became more outspoken against trans rights.

Sutcliffe said: “Do you think there’s a major philosophical distinction between artists who have committed crimes, have been found guilty of crimes and artists who simply have unpopular opinions.

“You bring up the case of JK Rowling who clearly has a very unpopular opinion regarding gender identity and has, as a consequence of that, faced severe and serious criticism. Are those the same things?”

BBC says there’s ‘no evidence’ that JK Rowling’s views are ‘unpopular’

The ECU upheld part of the listener’s complaint that it was “potentially misleading” to discuss Rowling’s views in this way and conflicted with the company’s impartiality guidelines.

“The ECU agreed, however, that Mr Sutcliffe’s reference to a ‘very unpopular opinion’ was potentially misleading because, while it had clearly proved objectionable to some, there was no conclusive evidence that the objectors represented a majority,” the ECU said in a statement.

Pollsters, however, may disagree. The majority of Britons do, in fact, support trans rights. A 2020 YouGov survey found that 40 per cent of Brits feel that a trans woman is a woman, while 41 per cent say the same for trans men being men.

This is compared to 36 per cent of people who would disagree on both.

Women are generally more likely to support trans rights, despite the alarms raised by so-called “feminist” groups. Almost half happily accept the gender identities of both trans men and women.

The majority of Brits also say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a trans woman using women’s toilets, changing rooms or refuges for victims of rape.

Protesters hold signs calling out JK. Rowling's twitter comments

Protesters hold signs calling out JK. Rowling’s Twitter comments as they take part in a Harry Potter-themed rally in front of the Democracy Monument on August 3, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

While Rowling has opposed self-declaration – which is far simpler and cheaper – the results of the Gender Recognition Act consultation saw 83.5 per cent of the 100,000 respondents come out swinging for the policy.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said there should be no need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria for a trans person to legally change their gender. More than 78 per cent said the demand that applicants “prove” they have lived their gender for two years should also be scrapped.

Rowling claimed in March that “innumerable gay people” back her views. Only for countless LGBTQ+ users across the globe to tweet “JK Doesn’t Speak For Me“.

The ECU added that Sutcliffe later appeared on Radio 4’s Feeback, a show which sees hosts reply to viewer queries, on 1 April. During the programme, he “acknowledged that many people shared the view expressed by JK Rowling and that he should have reflected that view,” the ECU says.

The BBC’s complaints team had no issue, however, with Rowling’s name being mentioned alongside Eric Gill, Adolf Hitler and R Kelly. The listener had argued doing so in the interview was “offensive and harmful”.

“As to comparing her case with others, the ECU noted that Mr Sutcliffe did so in the context of distinguishing between expressing opinions (as JK Rowling had done) and committing criminal acts, and considered that this was neither harmful nor offensive,” the team said.

Ireland’s broadcast regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, ruled in 2021 that it is “not fair” to call Rowling a “transphobic bigot”.