The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MS HELEN CLARE BELCHER (affirmed).

  • Make yourself comfortable and first of all your full name.

  • Thank you. You provided the Inquiry, for which we're grateful, a submission on behalf of Trans Media Watch. The first page, I believe, ends with our numbers 58510. First of all, may I ask you to explain Trans Media Watch? It's page 4, please, on the internal numbering.

  • Hang on. Before you do, this document I don't think bears a name, does it?

  • We called it the British Press and the Transgender Community Submissions --

  • Yes, but I meant it didn't bear a human name.

  • This constitutes your evidence as part of the evidence to the Inquiry?

  • This is the submission by Trans Media Watch and I'm the representative.

  • But you're content that it be put as part of the record of the Inquiry as effectively your evidence?

  • Representing Trans Media Watch?

  • Thank you very much.

    Sorry, I omitted that, but all our evidence has to be formally committed.

    Page 4 please on the internal numbering you tell us about Trans Media Watch, but in your own words, please?

  • A small group of us formed Trans Media Watch in relation to a series of concerns over the representation of trans and intersex people throughout the British media. We formed in 2009. We incorporated as a charity at the end of 2010. We aim to work constructively with broadcasters, regulators and members of the press in order to educate them about trans and intersex issues but we also assist trans and intersex people with complaints about the media and how to present that effectively to regulators or to newspapers or broadcasters.

  • Thank you very much. At page 5 you define two terms or concepts. The first term is transgender, the second term is intersex. In your own words, please, transgender?

  • Transgender -- I'll use trans if you don't mind, under the document it goes through transgender -- basically is the group of people who will identify with the gender opposite to the one recorded at their birth. So a trans woman will be someone who was recorded as male at birth but identifies as female. That may mean -- may not mean living full-time in role as a woman. It may not necessarily mean that there is any medical intervention, but it is where there is sufficient discomfort or dysphoria living as the gender assigned to you at birth to cause significant problems.

    Intersex is where the physical biology is in between or has aspects of both genders.

  • Thank you. Under the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, which I think was brought into effect with Royal Assent on 1 July 2004, there is a specific procedure by which an application is made to change gender; is that correct?

  • There is, that is correct. There are a large number of trans people who have transitioned who are -- who have chosen not to apply for gender recognition certificates for a variety of reasons. There are people who are unwilling to dissolve existing marriages. There are people who are suspicious about being recorded on what they would see as a central government register of trans people, and there are people who inevitably will not know about the legislation.

  • Yes. The effect of acquiring the certificate under Section 9 is that the person's gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender?

  • There are also some other consequences which are slightly more complex. Section 22, prohibition on disclosure of information. There is certainly protected information which relates to the person's gender before it becomes the acquired gender. There are certain entities acting in an official capacity who cannot disseminate that protected information. That would include the press under section 22(3)(c) on my understanding, but there are certain exceptions under section 23(4); is that right?

  • I don't think it's going to be necessary to go into all of those exceptions, but it sets out a basic statutory framework which is important.

    There's another important aspect which should be drawn attention to, that the PCC's code of practice, clause 12, says:

    "The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation ..." and then other matters which we needn't be concerned about today. It's the reference to gender which I think is important. I think it was changed from sex to gender in 2005?

  • And you've also drawn attention to a guidance note by either the PCC or the Code of Practice Committee, I think it's likely to be probably the PCC, issued in 2005, which makes it clear that gender includes gender identity, is that so?

  • It's actually the Editors' Code of Practice Committee released a press release on 5 May 2005 where they specifically -- if I may quote:

    "Individuals who are undergoing or have undergone treatment for gender reassignment will be included in the categories offered protection from prejudicial or pejorative references."

    Further down it says:

    "It has decided that the word 'gender' will replace 'sex' in subclause 12(1), thus widening its scope to include transgender individuals."

    And further down again:

    "The committee decided against a change to the accompanying subclause 12(2) which covers publication of discriminatory details that aren't relevant to a story because trans individuals would be covered under the existing rules."

  • Thank you, that's clear. Page 6, please, of your submission. There are four general points here which I'm sure you wish to make. The first is transsexualism is not a lifestyle choice. Indeed, many transsexual people fight this aspect of their nature for many years because of prevailing societal attitudes. So that's the first point?

  • I would actually expand on that and say actually most people do not choose to be transsexual. They try and choose not to be transsexual.

  • Thank you. Secondly, that the right for transgender people to access medical treatment under the National Health Service has been enshrined in law since December 1998. You refer there to a particular case which was decided in that year which established that principle?

  • Thirdly, you refer to the Equality Act 2010, which gives full protection within the terms of that Act to transgender people, and then fourthly you make the point transsexual people are particularly vulnerable. Maybe you would like to expand on that point as well for us, please Ms Belcher.

  • A lot of transsexual people at the point they transition to what is known as their acquired sex or the sex that they believe themselves to be will have gone through a substantial period of heart searching. They will have -- they may well be suffering from aspects of depression and stress. Their family life is likely to be completely chaotic. If they are married, their spouses may well struggle to come to terms with what is going on. Children often get caught up in the crossfire, as it were.

    At that point, a lot of people are -- may not look particularly convincing as members of the gender they believe themselves to be.

    Now, the NHS guidelines require that trans people transition before receiving hormonal treatment. People who go through a private path may receive hormonal treatment before a public transition, that can often make a significant difference to people in the way that they are perceived. But the combination of social and domestic upheaval, pressures around work, the whole journey, if you like, of coming to terms with who you are and what you need to do makes it an incredibly stressful time.

  • Thank you. Section C please at page 7. You say, this is the fourth line down:

    "The media and the tabloid press in particular has played a powerful role in creating and sustaining a climate of prejudice against transgender people."

    There are some detailed case studies which in fact are not supplied in your official evidence for various reasons, but there are some examples we're going to come to within the main body of this submission.

    You say at the end of that paragraph:

    "Entirely innocent individuals have been forced out of jobs and homes, even received death threats, on the basis of coverage in the British press."

    How many examples of that are you able to provide us with?

  • The honest answer is I don't know, but we have got examples of those things happening. There are cases where families have had to relocate. There are examples where families get -- trans people get death threats written and pushed on envelopes through doors. It is -- I don't know how common it is, but it happens.

  • Certainly. Then you say in the next paragraph:

    "The Press Complaints Commission is widely regarded as an ineffective joke by the transgender community."

    May I ask you, please, to elaborate on that statement?

  • Most trans people now when they're the subject of an article which they would deem worthy of a complaint don't bother, because the PCC has received a number of complaints and it appears that nothing ever changes as a result of those complaints.

    There was one example where a trans person was effectively forced out of her job on the basis of a newspaper article. There was a whole raft of implications. The PCC found that one particular word had been pejorative, and in the light of that, amongst other attempts to complain, the trans community has more or less walked away from the PCC.

    In 1996, there was a pressure group -- still is a pressure group called Press for Change, who did a presentation to the Press Complaints Commission about trans issues. They met -- they got met with a number of concerned looks, but nothing changed.

  • Thank you. Various research was done in 2010, which I think you commissioned. Page 8. An online questionnaire on a self-completion basis was filled in I think by 250 people, and the picture which is painted, we can see the statistics here: 95 per cent of respondents said they did not believe the media cared how transgender people were portrayed. 78 per cent believed portrayals of transgender people were either inaccurate or very inaccurate. 70 per cent said that portrayals of transgender people in the media were either negative or very negative, and then there are various responses from angry, unhappy, excluded and frightened where the percentages are listed.

    Can I ask you to look at section D, the impact of the press on public perception. There are two respects here which are important. One you say is general, one is specific. The first one, the general one, is (a):

    "The creation and sustainment of a climate of ridicule and humiliation."

    Can I ask you to elaborate on that issue?

  • There are -- it's really to do with the type of reporting. Trans people -- on the next page in the submission we detail a number of different ways in which the press routinely misgenders people, concentrates on the use of a former name, using before and after photographs to graphically indicate some astounding physical transitions. There is often some kind of comedic or demeaning or ridiculing language used within articles, specifically headlines, and a lot of trans people find some of those words incredibly offensive.

    So -- I mean, it's routine. It happens today in the press, despite the editors' protestations that everything is sorted out.

  • We're going to come to one example which is very recent in a moment. Point (b) at page 10:

    "Singling out individual transgender people and their families for sustained personal intrusion."

    That point I think may be best illustrated by looking at some of the examples you have provided us.

  • Page 12, the first of these examples, one which I put to Mr Mohan yesterday, Ms Belcher. The Sun, 24 October 2009:

    "Dad of two driver changes gear in sex swap."

    So we have first of all, if I may say so, a juvenile joke, is that right?

  • Yes, it's juvenile. "Sex swap" also is a term which a lot of people find offensive. It seems to indicate some kind of immediate transference from one gender to the other. It's -- yes.

  • In this case, because we looked at it yesterday, I can take it reasonably succinctly, we have the use of the adverb "burly", which is a consistent term. We have the wrong use of the personal pronoun. Then we have the before and after photographs.

    I think you're in a position, Ms Belcher, to tell us more background in relation to this case, of course preserving the anonymity of the subject of the article?

  • The subject has talked to us since we made the submission and it has transpired that the ex-partner of the subject sold the story to a weekly magazine and they had published the story about the subject a few weeks earlier. The picture was sold to the magazine without the subject's permission, and it was also associated with that original article.

    It appears that the Sun got it from there. The piece was then rewritten, so it looked as though the subject had colluded with the Sun. The first the subject knew was when the Sun published it.

    It caused her immense distress. It also caused her children huge distress, because they thought that she had sold her story or was behind her story in some way, and she had nothing to do with the story whatsoever. It is a pure expose. There is no public interest.

  • Thank you. The Scottish Sun, next page, 15 December 2010. We have a photograph. We have "burly" and we have the same "sex swap" in the headline; is that right?

  • And another silly joke, but this time relates to mechanics, I think, with the nuts -- or maybe not.

  • May be male genitalia, yes.

  • Sorry I was being a little bit naive there, I'm afraid. Page 14, please, Ms Belcher, 24 February 2011. I took this one to Mr Mohan yesterday. Use of the term "tran", what's your comment on that?

  • It is making somebody an object rather than a person. It is dehumanising an individual. Trans people are not solely trans. They have other interests, they do other things. They go down to the supermarket and buy milk. They have different categories. And to constantly reduce trans people to one label is incredibly objectifying and dehumanising.

    I saw Mr Mohan's evidence yesterday where he tried to tape this article to the broadcast of the programme "There's something about Miriam". The article is dated 25 February 2011. The programme "Something about Miriam" was broadcast in February 2004. So there is a seven-year delay between trying to associate the programme to the article.

    The programme itself came under huge condemnation from the trans community. If I can read a couple of quotes, one was from Petra Boynton:

    "The whole premise of 'There's something about Miriam' was not a celebration of transgendered life. It was designed to elicit horror from the winning contestant discovering that his dream date had a penis."

    And the second quote is from a writer called Julia Serano:

    "Programmes like 'There's something about Miriam' reinforce the stereotype that trans people's birth sex is somehow real and our identities or lived sex is false, but they perpetuate the myth of deception and thus enable violence against us."

    That is the reaction of the trans community to the programme. By conflating this article with the programme, the Sun is basically saying trans people elicit horror, trans people are frauds.

  • Thank you. Page 15 now. The Daily Express, New Year's Day 2011:

    "'Half man' gets new breasts and guess who's paying the £78,000."

    There are a number of points which you clearly make about this article, but the real concern of the Daily Express is to emphasise that the taxpayer is having to pay £78,000. Is that fair?

  • That appears part of it. I mean, the £78,000 seems to be made up of two figures, which is a £60,000 and an £18,000. The 60,000 is an oft-quoted figure for genital reassignment surgery. The figure is completely fictitious, as far as we can ascertain. The study relating to a submission to the Inquiry has determined that the average cost of male-to-female genital surgery on the NHS is somewhere between £10,000 and £15,000.

    When papers are challenged or have been challenged about this £60,000 figure, they are extremely reluctant to change it, claiming that we don't know what the case was or the amount was on that particular case, but then, I suggest, neither do they.

    I'm trying to find if -- I think we wrote somewhere else in the study -- it might have been something we took out -- where there is a common theme, because transgender people are portrayed as fraudulent, there is this constant debate over then why should the state pay for any treatment of trans people? And somehow we're portrayed as hoovering up massive amounts of public money, whereas actually if somebody is on oestrogen, it is actually quite likely they are subsidising the NHS, because of the extremely low cost of the tablets.

    The NHS, as we pointed out earlier, has a legal duty to support trans people on the basis that it is not a lifestyle choice, it is something that people are born with.

  • There are other points which can be made about this piece, which you do make, but which are, I think, fairly clear.

    Can I move to page 16 in the Daily Mail, 19 September 2011. I think you believe this was Mail Online rather than the Daily Mail, although you're not sure; is that right?

  • It's definitely on Mail Online. We don't know whether it appeared in the print version of the day.

  • Yes, that's an issue which has affected the Inquiry from time to time to work out whether Mail Online also covers the print edition or not. Of course, it would depend, I think, is the true answer.

  • But it's still published by the same organisation.

  • In terms of the interests of the Inquiry, looking at the culture, practice and ethics of the press as a whole, of course, it makes no difference.

    The headline:

    "The gender-free British passport: UK travellers may no longer have to declare their sex to spare feelings of 'transgender people'."

    There are a number of points to be made about that. Maybe I can leave it to you make them?

  • The first and most obvious point is why is "transgender people" in quotes? That headline seems to indicate that the Mail, in whatever guise, does not believe that trans people should exist.

    There has been a series of calls for reviewing the existence of gender markers on UK passports, but however they have also come from intersex people and actually also some feminist groups as well, but that is just not referenced in the article. Once again it's these pesky trans people who are causing problems and why don't they just go away and leave us to live our lives in peace?

  • Thank you. Page 17, the same day. Again, possibly the Daily Mail, certainly the Mail Online. The headline here:

    "Sex change man named [and then obviously you've redacted it out] becomes Britain's Olympic ambassador for transsexuals."

    Could you talk us through this particular piece, please, and also I think there's an underlying story you want to cross-reference?

  • Indeed. The idea that we would need an Olympic ambassador for transsexuals is itself mainly absurd. She has a role as an Olympic ambassador to meet a variety of different VIPs. The subject is misgendered again throughout the piece, beginning in the headline with "Sex change man". "Sex change" is also a term that a lot of trans people find offensive for the basic reason, actually, that trans people often don't believe they're changing their sex. They are who they are, and they have been from birth. They are merely changing their presentation.

    The subject's previous name appears prominently throughout the article. Again, the subject has been in touch with Trans Media Watch for quite some time. She tells us that the story originally appeared in her local paper. They still use the sex change line, but throughout the original article the subject is correctly gendered and there's very little reference to any previous name.

    The Daily Mail ambushed her, in her words. They got hold of a photographer and one of the other pictures, without the subject's permission. The Mail then rewrote the article, replacing all the "she's" with "he's". They contacted her two days before they were going to publish the article. She refused permission for her photograph to be used, but as you can see, it's still in the paper.

    The local paper journalist was extremely upset and the quote that I have is, "They bastardised my piece."

    The subject felt that as a result of this article that her job had become under threat and untenable. However, LOCOG have been supportive of her.

    I think that's probably all I need to say on that one.

  • I'm not going to cover each and every one of these, but there's one I'm sure you wish to cover. Page 18, Daily Mail early 2009, and a piece you refer to in the local paper which was extremely supportive.

  • Again I think I'd like to reference this in terms of the evidence Mr Dacre gave on Monday where he alluded to his organisation pursuing some kind of moral crusade and he felt it completely appropriate to expose people who were, in his terms, immoral. I struggle to see what is immoral about being trans. The Mail publishes, either Mail Online or in the Daily Mail, six times more trans stories than any other paper in this country. In terms of this, this basically proves that the Mail was trying to create an issue for a local support group, but the local community did not actually find the issue and in fact were incredibly supportive of that group.

  • The organisers of the group were then quoted in the local paper as saying that the Daily Mail's piece had ruined their lives and the local paper actually also received many expressions of support for the local group, which appears to entirely undermine the Daily Mail's stance.

  • Thank you. You give two other Daily Mail or Mail Online examples. Each of them is different in its way, but we've read and considered those. I would like to cover the Sun example of 31 December of last year. It's quite recent:

    "Operation sex swap, MoD paying for troops' gender surgery."

    This is page 21 of the submission on the internal numbering. The point that was being made here is this time it's not the NHS but it's the Ministry of Defence who has spent thousands of pounds to help troops have and then in capitals "sex changes". I think some figures are given a little bit later on. From April 2009 to date, the cost to the MoD is £7,440 for minor surgical procedures relating to gender reassignment.

  • It is extremely unlikely, given that the average cost, as I alluded to before, for male-to-female genital reassignment is between 10 and 15,000, that for five people you could get those kind of surgical procedures for £7,440. Also, that is from April 2009 to the end of 2011, so that's two and a half years.

    The point I would make is that when newspapers out public servants for doing their duty just simply because they are trans, in almost all cases senior management is involved to manage the press fallout, to make sure that the individual concerned is secure and is able to continue doing their job. Each one of those will cost many thousands of pounds out of the public purse. So for the Sun to indicate that it is disgraceful for the Ministry of Defence to pay £7,440 over a period of 30 months when they themselves are inflicting thousands of pounds for each outing of a public servant, this appears incredibly disingenuous.

  • Thank you. Section E, dealing with impact, it should be stated that you provided the Inquiry on a confidential basis with a number of case studies. You point out in the middle of page 23 -- this is the part in bold type -- that each is confidential to the Inquiry, as each subject has expressed grave fears about further invasions of privacy and harassments by the press should it become known that their story is in our submission, and for that reason, after consideration, you decided not to publish the case studies or permit the Inquiry to do so, so that has not happened. But you do find some common themes, and these are the four bullet points which you list:

    "In each case, the subject of the story had their right to privacy grossly breached, often at a very vulnerable time, with no public interest being served whatsoever.

    "Was put in danger of public abuse and/or violence.

    "Is left with candid details of their personal affairs, including previous names, pictures, home or work, available on the Internet.

    "Often these details, including photographs, were acquired without the subject's permission.

    "Had to fight the press to force them to exercise restraint -- often with no effect."

    So those are the common themes which again we're not going to look at in detail for the reasons that you have given.

    Page 26 now and section F, "Press and regulator response". Has the PCC in your view been supportive? We know that the Editors' Code of Practice Committee as you've told us has amended clause 12 to substitute "gender" for "sex" and the reason for doing that you have explained and there's also some guidance, so that might be said to indicate a measure of support.

  • But elsewhere has the PCC been supportive?

  • The PCC has, I think, wanted to express support, but for whatever reason is unable to actually deliver on that support.

    In the meetings that we've had with the PCC, it's almost a bit like Pontius Pilate, washing their hands with a sense of woe that there's nothing that they can do.

    The code is used as a barrier in many instances to prevent people from complaining. Trans people -- as I said earlier -- often feel extremely vulnerable at the point of transitioning. The idea that they then want to fight through some kind of judicial or quasi judicial process with a track record of really not getting any results at the end is extremely off-putting, and so people are reluctant to go down that path.

    We try to talk to newspapers, but a third of the time you just get no response at all, about a third of the time we just get complete incomprehension as to why is this possibly a problem, what are you complaining about, but some we get some level of traction.

    So we find that individuals rarely want to pursue the case because they then become afraid of future harassment. The view tends to be: it's safer to let the hornet's nest lie undisturbed. But the implication is because these articles remain online, you can still find them years and years later, often when the individual wants to move on, trying to really distance themselves from a previous -- their previous life, and they can't do so.

  • To what extent would this be solved by a complaint mechanism that permitted legitimate representative complaint? I say legitimate representative complaint obviously to stop anybody saying, "Well, I want to complain", if possible, perhaps just to make trouble, but what about that?

  • I think that would go quite a long way. The other aspect, I think, is the lack of real teeth from the PCC.

  • Yes, well, I've heard about that.

  • I know. I think the issue -- people often appreciate the level of support that we can give, but they're reluctant to really push anything because they don't really see that there is any sanction to rectify the situation.

  • Thank you. I would like to ask you, though -- and maybe I'm at fault for not putting this to Baroness Buscombe yesterday, probably should have done really -- page 27 in the middle of the page, you refer to a meeting with Baroness Buscombe, Mr Abell, who was the then director, and it was Jennie Kermode, I don't believe yourself, on 15 September 2010. I'm right in saying you didn't attend?

  • I wasn't, no. That was a meeting up in Edinburgh.

  • You say in your submission:

    "Both Baroness Buscombe and Ms Roberton expressed their belief that changes in the Editors' Code would be of benefit in helping the PCC to challenge instances of overt prejudice against transgender people and other minority groups, but did not feel it would be easy to engineer such changes because of the influence of newspaper editors over the Commission."

    Is there a note of that remark?

  • I don't know. The person who wrote this particular section was Jennie Kermode, so we can check with her to see what documentation she actually has.

  • Thank you. Before I come to your recommendations, I had passed over the recent piece in the Sun, Scottish Sun, I think it's called. Very recent, which you drew to my attention earlier.

  • Well, I noticed that -- I mean, there's a number of things on the -- Mr Mohan was quite insistent that the Sun had mended its ways and no longer abused trans people, yet on 3 January there was an article in the printed Sun with the headline, "Tranosauras", about a very tall trans woman, simply attributed to "staff reporter".

    And yesterday, while he was giving evidence, there's an article written by Stuart MacDonald up on the Scottish Sun, which is actually still under the Sun's website. The headline is, "Tranny granny raids three banks", where it talks actually about somebody who appears to be a con artist and not trans at all, so simply conflating the idea that somebody just dressing up in women's clothes to commit a crime must therefore be trans in some way and yet still using the pejorative term "tranny" in order to describe that. I struggle to see how that kind of article with that kind of headline is mending their ways.

  • We'll need to check, but it may well be, I suspect it is the case, that the Scottish Sun has a separate editor.

  • I think it does, but the point is made.

  • Yes. The point remains valid.

  • Generally, if not specifically about Mr Mohan. Yes.

  • Your recommendations, Ms Belcher, page 29 under section G.

  • The first one is really the point that Lord Leveson has just tried to draw out in terms of enabling vulnerable groups or representatives from those vulnerable groups to be able to make complaints on behalf of individuals. There are a number of articles though in the first part of our submission where there is no individual named and therefore there is no individual under the current code who can complain. When we met with the Press Complaints Commission, the only grounds for complaint on such articles would be on the grounds of accuracy.

    When people complain on the grounds of accuracy, the PCC tends to then go onto a very rigorous dictionary definition of words, rather than necessarily being able to interpret the underlying meaning of the article.

    So in those instances, being able to -- Trans Media Watch, for example, being able to complain on behalf of the trans and intersex community about such articles would be immensely valuable.

  • Thank you. Protection for the dead. This deals with the law of defamation which, in my understanding of the width and breadth of the terms of reference, probably --

  • You'll appreciate, I'm sure -- I'm not critical of you mentioning this, but I'm sure you'll appreciate that there are all sorts of issues about defaming the dead, the prospect of somebody saying something about somebody who is long, long dead, and -- well, you don't need me to articulate the problems.

  • No. I think the point that we'd like to have put on record, as we have done, is made in the submission in terms of being able to be able to challenge the representation of the recently departed, because again of the standard conflations of trans with all sorts of things. If a trans person is murdered, there is usually some kind of conflation with sex work that goes on, irrespective of whether that actually is found to be true or not.

  • It's not just a problem in this area. The constant criticism I have heard in relation to victims of homicide is that they can't answer the allegations made about those who have killed them, which are then put out in public, and insufficiently rebutted. So I understand the problem. Solving it, however, is a slightly different issue.

  • Thank you. The third point, protected characteristics, substituting "gender identity" in clause 12 for "gender" or maybe including "gender identity". It may well be that this is adequately catered for by what happened in 2005, but your point may be it should be made more express so there's no doubt about it?

  • Exactly. The explicit nature of it. Again because it appears that very often the press tends to look at the individual words, so because gender identity is not explicitly mentioned, it gets overlooked, even though it's implicitly.

  • Then anonymity. This divides into two points. First, the PCC or whoever it is should have the power under clause 12 to penalise the outing of transgender or intersex individuals by the press. Then you make the additional point that where an individual holds the relevant certificate which makes it illegal for a public servant to disclose their gender history, the press should be permitted to disclose elements of their history only where they existed to the (inaudible) multiple case if this is in the public interest -- which the title in question should be compelled to give.

    If the case falls within the Act and the press are covered by section 22(3)(c), unless it falls within one of the exceptions, I think it is an offence, is that not right, punishable on summary conviction to a fine at level 5. Have I correctly understood it?

  • I mean I haven't -- you have my copy of the Act there, Mr Jay.

  • It's all right. My understanding is the same.

  • I'm not sure there's a public interest defence in the Act at all, but you are generously saying that the press might have one, are you?

  • No, I'm not. The press will print these articles stating on the loosest possible claim that there is a public interest. I think very often they get confused with their belief that the public might be interested in an article. I can see no -- again, if we go back to the first article that we looked at in some detail, what was the public interest in disclosing the gender transition of that lorry driver? I struggle to find it, and I would love to hear the Sun's justification for doing that. So in those instances, where there is no public interest defence, that poor lady, her details are -- whether she gets a gender recognition certificate or not now, it's just there on the public record, which kind of makes the provisions of the Act rather redundant.

  • Thank you. Then your second point is that the regulator should automatically grant anonymity to any person pursuing a claim against a newspaper for breaching the above guidelines. I'm sure that point will be taken on board.

  • My own personal situation, I would like to broaden out the discussion from just simply the Gender Recognition Act, because as I said earlier there are a significant number of trans people who, for whatever reason, do not have a gender recognition certificate. Trans people are not able to apply for a gender recognition certificate until two years have elapsed, so there is -- since their transition, so there is a significant period of time when they are most vulnerable, when they appear most newsworthy, when the Gender Recognition Act would not apply. We don't believe that such people should be exempt from any protections which are given to them purely on the basis of an existence of a piece of paper or the elapsement of a period of time.

  • Then there's the issue of penalties, which others have, of course, made similar points.

  • And the point you make -- one of the points you make, which is a very valid one, is that apologies and the like might only draw attention to the issue rather than solve the problem. That's one of the difficulties about libel proceedings as well, but I understand it. Yes.

  • Press agencies, the sixth point. You believe the press regulator should have the power to regulate those.

  • We heard on Monday that "a Daily Mail reporter" is usually a byline for a story received from a press agency. Yet our experience is when we challenge such stories, suddenly the paper denies any liability because they didn't source it themselves, and that causes massive problems in a number of cases, and there are a large number of these articles which are given bylines similar to that.

  • Yes. I think your point is that both the newspaper who would be liable or responsible under the code, regardless of the source, and the agency who supplied the story should both be caught by the provisions of the code and by regulation.

  • It's rather like the broadcast rules. If a broadcaster was to broadcast a programme which was then found in breach, they would then have to share the liability for that, irrespective of whether they produced the programme in the first place.

  • Then your last point is a plea for a fast and relatively cheap or preferably entirely cheap complaints process.

  • By "entirely cheap", I'm hoping you mean free.

  • Yes. Because of the position that trans people find themselves, the -- there's a lot of stigma. A lot of trans people lose jobs, find it difficult to get jobs. There is evidence that the earnings of a trans person is significantly lower than they could expect if they weren't trans. That is a further deterrent for them to seek any recompense. It actually pretty much prevents any trans person from pursuing any action against a newspaper in the courts. So the idea that the law currently covers trans people or people in this situation in theory is correct, assuming access to the law is free, but it rarely is, and especially when you are attempting to challenge very well-funded media companies on the grounds of what they have printed, it becomes almost impossible.

  • That's not a point limited to your group at all.

  • It is all those who simply don't have the means to pursue expensive remedies.

  • Thank you. Are there any other points you would like to make, Ms Belcher, or do you feel we've covered the evidence you would like to give?

  • I think we've covered the -- we've drawn out the main points. I think the press has shown an alarming lack of respect for trans people for many decades. It has shown an alarming lack of alacrity to try and learn about the issues. We noted Mr Mohan's suggestion that groups like us come and train their journalists in issues, but it's basic human decency and respect, and that's actually all we're asking for. We're not asking for special treatment; we're asking for the same treatment as everybody else.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Thank you, we'll take a break.

  • (A short break)

  • The next witness is Pamela Surphlis and I need to check, however, that our system is working. Could you confirm, please, Mrs Surphlis, that you can hear or see me?

  • Thank you very much, Ms Surphlis, for providing this information about SAMM in Northern Ireland and for taking part in these arrangements for us to receive your evidence.

  • Ah, we've lost the sound.

  • Thank you. First of all, may I invite you to take the oath, please.