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Legacy media pushing false, misleading narratives about trans people to ‘create fear’

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A picture of a panel discussion run by Outvertising about hate in the media and the role advertisers need to play.

Legacy media titles are pushing false, misleading narratives about trans and queer people to “create fear”, a panel discussion has heard.

Media and marketing experts reflected on the role brands can play in tackling anti-LGBTQ+ hate in a panel discussion hosted by Outvertising, an organisation that exists to make advertising completely LGBTQ+ inclusive.

The event was sponsored by PinkNews alongside Meta, Diageo and Clear Channel. Moderator Marty Davies was joined by marketing experts Michelle Sarpong and Florie Roudet as well as Stop Funding Hate’s Richard Wilson and PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen to discuss the lurch towards hate in the media.

Opening the discussion, Davies drew attention to the stark rise in the number of anti-trans stories published by mainstream media outlets in recent years.

The real world impact of those stories is that public attitudes towards trans people are getting worse, Davies said – people increasingly don’t believe that trans people are who they say they are and that trans women are “a threat” to cis women.

PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen.

PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen. (Outvertising)

Meanwhile, anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes have skyrocketed in recent years, they added.

“This isn’t just stories, it has a real world impact on people’s lives,” Davies said.

Stop Funding Hate’s Richard Wilson said some legacy media titles are pushing the idea that trans people are “a burden or a threat”.

“The other thing to say is it’s not just about the individual examples, it’s that cumulative impact of that drip, drip, drip every week, every few days, another negative message,” Wilson said, adding that such coverage leads to “other harms”.

PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen criticised legacy media titles such as The TimesThe Telegraph and The Daily Mail, saying they’re not “fit for the future”.

“I’m really pleased that PinkNews reaches over 100 million people each month and around the world and that really demonstrates to us there is a massive audience – not for this type of content we’re talking about here – the anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ content that you’ll see in the legacy media.”

If there is this super powerful trans lobby, where is it? It hasn’t succeeded, and actually that’s because they’re painting a false narrative to create fear.

Cohen said such reporting is “basically scaremongering” and that the journalism produced by some legacy media is “misleading”.

“It’s journalism that’s designed to delegitimise organisations, businesses like PinkNews, organisations, charities like Stonewall, like Mermaids. They’re sometimes legitimate questions that are contained within the journalism but the framing of it I don’t consider to be particularly legitimate.

“It’s designed to create anger, confusion, fear, in the population,” he said.

Cohen went on to criticise the legacy media’s use of the term “trans lobby”, saying if such a thing exists, it’s clearly “not very powerful”.

“If there is this super powerful trans lobby, where is it? It hasn’t succeeded, and actually that’s because they’re painting a false narrative to create fear.”

Wilson said the “elephant in the room” is that “hate sells”.

“It is an effective way, unfortunately, of driving clicks to your website.”

“This has proliferated in the last few years kind of in tandem with the rise of online advertising, so without intending to, the advertising industry has influenced the media to go in this more polarising direction and that’s why you need to then think about, what do we change systemically to counter that.”

Advertisers need to ‘look at themselves in the mirror’ more often

Florie Roudet, marketing director at Skin + Me, said brands can sometimes forget where money is gong because they’re so focused on “driving the numbers”.

She said advertisers might not be “looking at themselves in the mirror as much as they should”.

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley speaking at a panel discussion hosted by Outvertising.

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley spoke at the event. (Outvertising)

Michele Sarpong, head of display, audio and OOH Activation at the7Stars, said advertisers “need to look at whether they’re reaching the right people”.

Sarpong said companies will “start making changes” if money is withheld.

I think for the first time ever… we’re starting to really see actual agencies, brands, really take a stand and pull money out.

“Because there’s been no consequences for some of the articles and editorials that’s been put out, that’s why people continue, that’s why hate is on the rise.

“I think for the first time ever… we’re starting to really see actual agencies, brands, really take a stand and pull money out.”

She added: “The fact that people are actually putting their money where their mouth is and going, actually I’m going to remove advertising from that platform, it will drive change.”

Closing out the discussion, Cohen criticised brands that act as if LGBTQ+ people only exist during Pride Month.

He urged brands to see their work with LGBTQ+ communities as being “business as usual”, adding that it can’t be just about “piecemeal campaigns”.

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