New research on reporting of trans issues shows 400% increase in coverage and varying perceptions on broader editorial standards

Cllr Caroline McAllister and Toni Giugliano, who will stand for SNP against Labour’s Jackie Baillie  for the Dumbarton seat in the Scottish Parliament.

By Democrat reporter

The press regulator IPSO has today published research on editorial standards in coverage of transgender issues between 2009 and 2019.

The issue raised its head in Dumbarton recently when the SNP dismissed Cllr Caroline McAllister, deputy leader of West Dunbartonshire Council, from their short list of candidates to stand against Labour’s Jackie Baillie in the Scottish Parliament elections next May.

The SNP, whose national association stepped in and pushed the local constituency association aside to make the choice, finally chose gay rights campaigner Toni Giugliano to represent the SNP in the constituency which covers Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond.

Word on the street has it that Cllr McAllister, a strident campaigner against domestic abuse and other women’s issues locally, had agreed with the views of Harry Potter novelist JK Rowling when she expressed reservations in regard to the age at which young people could receive counselling and  medical and surgical treatment for sex change surgery.

Stories about this clash of views between Cllr McAllister and “woke” adherent in the party appeared in local newspapers and on The Democrat news platform in Dumbarton.

The regulator’s research identified a 400% increase in coverage volume within the sample publications over the past five years.

The research also found changes in the way subjects and topics are addressed; and a measurable evolution in terminology and use of language. It also identifies varying perceptions on broader editorial standards issues and examines the impact of interventions such as guidance and engagement by groups on reporting standards.

IPSO commissioned the research in order to understand more about the reporting of transgender issues and to find out more about how different interventions can impact editorial standards.

The research was conducted independently by Mediatique with consultant Conrad Roeber and QuantSpark, and its conclusions are the researchers’ own. It comprises quantitative analysis of over 12,000 articles in national and regional newspapers, looking at trends in subject matter covered and terminology used.

The research also includes detailed case studies spanning prominent events – such as Caitlin Jenner’s announcement of her transition and the Women and Equalities Committee’s 2016 report on Transgender Equality – analysing them to identify issues such as accuracy and discrimination which potentially align with the Editors’ Code.

Mediatique also carried out 43 in-depth interviews with newspaper and magazine editors, publishers, journalists and groups and individuals from all perspectives. The researchers identified perceptions amongst some of increased hostility towards transgender individuals as issues are debated, which some interviewees viewed as indicative of worsening standards. Interviewees also talked about concerns relating to freedom of expression and practical challenges in reporting on nuanced issues in a way that is sensitive but also understandable to a general readership.

The Chief Executive of IPSO, Charlotte Dewar said:  “Some of the most contentious and sensitive issues handled by IPSO relate to the reporting of transgender matters. Coverage generates broad, sometimes heated debate, and raises complex questions around balancing reporting freely on important societal issues with the potential impact on vulnerable individuals.”

As the independent regulator of most newspapers and magazines in the UK, IPSO, which West Dunbartonshire Council insists that The Democrat joins before they allow us full media accreditation and access to their meetings, is particularly interested in the research’s findings on drivers of change for improving editorial standards.

It shows that changes in societal attitudes and notable news events can have a real impact, but it also demonstrates the value of engagement that many groups and organisations have undertaken with the press.

“We are glad to play a role in helping to shed light on questions of why and in what ways reporting has changed in this area, and we will feed the conclusions into our own work.”

Mediatique said:  “This new and independent research is intended to add to the evidence base for discussions of media coverage in this area and to help all interested parties to engage with some of the challenges of reporting on this important topic.

“We hope it will help improve understanding of ways to contribute to improving editorial standards.”

Read the research report and a short summary here.

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