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Press watchdog censures Daily Mail and nine.com.au for irrelevant use of ‘transgender’

The Press Council has lambasted Daily Mail Australia and nine.com.au over two articles which could cause substantial prejudice to the transgender community.

An article from nine.com.au titled ‘Brighton Le Sands death: Dylan Walker’s sister in court over boyfriend’s death’ and a Daily Mail Australia article, ‘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’, both published on May 21, were found in breach of Press Council guidelines for unnecessarily using the word ‘transgender’.

The two articles from Nine (left) and Daily Mail Australia (right) have both been partially censured

In nine.com.au’s instance the article began with “The transgender sister of” a named football player “allegedly killing her boyfriend”. The woman and the name of the suburb were included and it was reported that the man had died from injuries relating to his head and face. The article also included a photograph of the woman and her brother.

Nine.com.au said it had only made one reference to the woman being transgender, also adding it was factually accurate and she had identified herself as openly transgender on social media. It said the use of the word was “relevant” and “presented in a neutral manner”, noting it had taken care to ensure the woman’s gender identity was not a major focus of the piece.

The website said it did not seek to link the woman’s gender identity with allegations against her, nor did it suggest being transgender was a bad quality. It also noted the woman had not complained about the article.

In a separate article, Daily Mail Australia reported a woman, the sister of a rugby league player, had been charged with manslaughter following the death of a man she was in a relationship with. The article said the woman, “a transgender women, had been involved in an ‘on and off’ relationship” with the man, and said she described herself on social media accounts as transgender. The article featured a social media post which said #transgender, #transisbeautiful’, although it made no suggest her sexuality was of relevance to the story. The article included photographs of the woman and a photograph of her and her brother. All charges against the woman were later withdrawn.

The publication argued the information was accurate, noting the woman had publicly and proudly described herself as transgender. It said the references made in the article were not used extensively or with disrespect.

The press watchdog’s ruling said publications must take great care not to place unwarranted emphasis on characteristics such as race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation and marital status.

“The council accepts that the woman had publicly stated on social media accounts that she was transgender,” the ruling said.

“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.”

The watchdog said while both nine.com.au and Daily Mail Australia had both taken reasonable steps to ensure the factual material was reasonably fair and balanced, the woman’s transgender status was not relevant to the allegations made against her. It said by identifying her as a transgender woman, it could lead readers to conclude it was the cause of, or a factor in, the alleged crime, thus contributing to substantial prejudice.

“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,” it said in both rulings.

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