The Sunday Mail told off for use of ‘knockers’ in article about Donald Trump’s sexual misconduct claims

The Australian Press Council has condemned News Corp’s The Sunday Mail for using the word “knockers” in the headline of an article about women who had made complaints about sexual misconduct by Donald Trump.

The print article which generated the complaint appeared in The Courier Mail’s Sunday print edition, The Sunday Mail, on 16 October last year with the ‘Knockers Come Out’ headline spanning two pages. A sub-headline, ‘Number of Trump accusers swells’ featured on the left-hand page, according to the Press Council.

The Press Council found the publication had failed to take reasonable steps to avoid contributing to offence, distress or prejudice in the article which alleged two more women had come forward to make complaints about sexual misconduct by then-candidate Trump.

In the ruling the APC considered the word “knockers” in the headline could have two meanings – but the “ordinary reader” would take it to mean “women’s breasts being revealed particularly given the article made clear all of the complainants were women, its content concerned sexual harassment”.

Even if the second interpretation were to be taken, the Press Council said its implications were still offensive.

“The Council considered that the alternative meaning of the word “knockers” as in ‘critics’, in the context of an article on multiple sexual harassment complaints, also had the effect of trivialising the seriousness of the complaints as mere criticisms,” the ruling said.

The Sunday Mail, however disagreed.

“The publication said the headline meant the word “knocker” in the sense of “critic”, and that this was the primary meaning of the word ahead of a vulgar meaning, such as women’s breasts. It said the headline was not intended to refer to women’s breasts and conveyed only that more and more critics of Mr Trump were speaking out against him, which was the substance of the report,” the Press Council noted in its ruling.

“The vulgar use of the word “knockers” in such a context could be read as mocking women who raise allegations of being sexually harassed, in focusing on a physical characteristic of women, and trivialising their complaints,” the ruling stated.

The press council censured the article and found the meaning of the word “knockers” could contribute to offence, distress, prejudice to women and people who have experienced sexual harassment.


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