Birchil Transphobia – PCC fails to act

March 23, 2013 in Bigotry, Comment Articles, Culture, Europe, Heteronormative, Legal, LGBT, Member Articles, Society, Transgender, Transgender Spectrum, Transphobia, Transsexual, United Kingdom, Wipe Out Transphobia by Emma

julie-burchill's hateful articleOn January 13 2013, UK Sunday newspaper The Observer published a piece by author and journalist Julie Burchill under the headline “Why Transsexuals should cut it out” The piece, written ostensibly in defence of her friend polemicist Suzanne Moore, turned into a pejorative laden attack on the Transgender community.

Moore had previously earned the disapproval of Transgender groups and individuals over comments she made in a submission to a Waterstone’s collection of essays “Red”.

Moore caused widespread offence by saying “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved and “women are angry about “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”

The subsequent outcry over the remark galvanised Julie Burchill into railing against, what she saw as, “a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write”

Unsurprisingly the article drew widespread criticism from the Trans community and beyond, leading to over 800 separate complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. Specifically under clauses 1, 4 ,and 12 of the PCC’s Editor’s code of Conduct.

On the 20th of March 2013, the PCC responded to the complaints it received. It said that it was satisfied that, despite the fact that “The Commission acknowledged that the complainants found much of the article offensive, nonetheless, the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence.”

Clause 1 of the code deals with inaccurate, distorted or misleading information, and to that extent, a reasonable argument that it is unlikely to apply in this case, as the opinion given is that of the author who does not seek to imply that it is information being disseminated.

Clause 4 deals with harassment or persistent pursuit. The grounds for complaint under this clause do not, in any shape or form relate to persistent pursuit. That having been said the tone of Burchill’s article seems very much to me like harassment of a minority group. A group already facing prejudice and attack from those unfamiliar or distrustful of trans people as legitimate members of society.

Complaint under section 12 of the code however, is a very different matter. Section 12 subsBApX7jhCcAEOxYgection 1 of the Editor’s code of conduct clearly states that “The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.” I would suggest that terms such as “…screaming-mimis” bunch of dicks in chick’s clothing” must be considered to be pejorative; that is the words are being used to express contempt or disapproval. By this measure it could be argued that the code had, in fact, been breached were it not for the stipulation that the code only applies to individuals. It does not, unfortunately, apply to any particular group of people.

After the article was published and the subsequent decision by Observer reader’s editor Stephen Pritchard to withdraw it, a row which has been rumbling for many years over freedom of speech was reignited. The Daily Telegraph republished Burchill’s article in an apparent attempt to defend the right of the press to publish such material.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right enshrined in Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” But article 19 should not, in my opinion be used to deny or otherwise abridge the rights of others to live their lives without undue interference or attack from others. In other words, with the right to free speech should come the responsibility not to use that right to the detriment of anyone else.

While I understand the position taken by the PCC is in accordance with the clauses used in this case, I am concerned that in its current form they can be used to mount such an attack on minority groups. Individuals within such a minority do feel threatened by a misunderstanding society. Such misunderstanding can, in extreme cases, turn to violence against an individual seen to represent that minority. From that perspective the Editor’s code of conduct can be seen as failing to protect an individual from harassment.

In closing I deplore the tone and language used by Burchill in the article, and I think that such articles serve only to drive a wedge between communities and can incite violence. Was she wrong to publish it? In my opinion very much so. However, because the PCC are powerless to act in the case of harassment of a group rather than an individual, there is little recourse in this case.

As a friend put it, she got away with it.

Comment Piece by:
Jani McCauley







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