Media Watch or Media Botch?
15 November 2021
Colin Peacock – usually one of the most reliably discerning voices in New Zealand media – set sail last week on the stormy waters of the gender identity debate. After some curious navigational choices, the good ship Media Watch almost foundered on the dangerous reefs lying between the Scylla of confirmation bias, and the Charybdis of ideological forelock tugging.
Peacock cited a protest by a Dunedin resident in response to the announcement that the Births, Deaths, Marriages, Relationships Registration Bill (BDMRR) Select Committee had ignored almost all of points made to them by a majority of respondents in the hearings, and the Government would be going ahead with sex self ID. (1)
The protest had taken the form of spray painting slogans on the windows of the constituency offices of Ingrid Leary, a Labour MP who previously had been largely silent on the question of sex self ID. This isolated and small protest was used to help keep afloat the less than watertight claim that the “culture war over trans rights overseas might be migrating here in Aotearoa.” (My emphasis.)
In further support of this claim of a possible rise of anti-trans sentiment in the New Zealand media, Peacock cited a BBC article about the personal experiences of eighty lesbians who say they have felt pressured into having sex with transwomen, before he effectively denied the veracity or relevance of seventy-nine of those experiences by highlighting the presence of ONE literal and metaphorical “bad actor,” Lily Cade, a lesbian porn actor who has expressed ugly views about transwomen.
Steadfastly following the heading given by his ideological compass, Peacock cited transactivist Shon “enjoy your erasure” Faye’s analysis of three hundred transgender related articles in The Times and The Sunday Times in 2020, most of which were deemed to be “negative in tone”.
We have a right to expect the journalists who work for the country’s flagship state media outlet to at least tip the hat to the important principle of differentiating between fact and opinion. Peacock’s failure to draw attention to the subjectivity in the analysis and/or the partisanship of the writer, could be viewed as a strategic sidestep of principle four of the media council’s code.
But this was more than a casual sidestep. As further evidence of the claim of a looming anti-trans bias in the New Zealand media, Peacock cited the Media Council’s decision to uphold a complaint by lobby group Speak Up For Women (SUFW), about a sentence in a Newshub article that the group claimed implied it was anti-transgender, something it denies. (2) A majority decision by the council judged Newshub had breached principle four, i.e., the council felt the statement was opinion or comment, not established fact.
For trans ideologues and all fervent fellow travellers, it is a given that SUFW is a “transphobic hate group”, so any decision in favour of anything it says or does, is by definition, transphobic, so the media council’s decision was duly added to the media bias side of the scales.
Peacock also said that the Otago Daily Times had run an SUFW advert “which insists trans women are not women” (3) but he also said other media outlets had refused to run the advert (the dictionary definition of woman) and that the ODT had been “heavily censured” for running it. Although he failed to say who did the censuring, the claimed existence of such wide censure and refusal of media outlets to run it, somewhat undermines the argument of a looming media hate fest against trans people – but onto the trans-bias side it duly went.
Seemingly unaware of the increasing winds of political controversy, and still steering the same course, Peacock added more canvas in the form of referencing two pieces of legislation with relevance to trans rights which the Labour government is using its unprecedented majority to push through into law – the “Conversion Practices Prohibition legislation bill which would ban organised efforts to suppress people’s gender identity or sexuality, and the Births Deaths Marriages and Relationships Registration bill which would allow people to more easily change the gender marker listed on their birth certificate.” (4) (My emphasis)
He goes on to state that “all this has many people and the local trans community feeling nervous that they may soon be subject to intense and sometimes even hostile media coverage”, which is the cue for an interview with a trans man, Ross Palethorpe.
The interviewer, Hayden Donnell, stuck on the same heading and ordered yet more sails be hoist by making the obligatory comparison to the heated debates around homosexual law reform almost forty years ago, referring to the “toxic media debate in the UK”, and asking what it was like for Palethorpe, “seeing that media cycle play out at home.”
At least Captain Peacock only said “might” and “may” – First Officer Donnell leapt right in with absolutes before proceeding to toss some soft ball questions to the interviewee.
Palethorpe argued that trans people just want to be left to live their lives – a sentiment which will resonate with and be supported by most people – but he went on to make a claim for trans-exceptionalism by saying the media must not talk about trans people but to them. Further, when addressing trans issues, journalists must either collaborate with a trans journalist or leave it to trans journalists to write about them.
Given the ever-expanding transgender community’s growing range of sub-categories and acronyms (acknowledged by Palethorpe on Twitter) I’m left wondering just who will be judged to be qualified to speak for whom.
More importantly, there’s the question of the erosion of the principle that journalists really must be able to research and to write fairly on a whole range of subjects, not all of which will be in their lived experience.
The reasons why this RNZ piece is so unusually one-sided became apparent in Palethorpe’s comment on a complaint he had lodged in relation to Newshub’s inclusion of the views of an American GP, in a story about puberty blockers.
Palethorpe was not just questioning the credentials of the person chosen to represent the opposing view but was asking whether the media actually should be obliged to present an opposing view at all. (5)
This is a running leap into ideological quicksand as someone, whose name I forget, once said.
A tweet from Palethorpe’s husband, J Palethorpe, calling on people to listen to a “trans dude” without having to also listen a transphobe – or words to that effect, also strongly suggests that the couple are of the opinion that the inclusion of any alternate view should be seen as inherently transphobic. The argument behind this stance generally goes: only transphobes take issue with any aspect of the current trans orthodoxy, ergo anyone who questions it in any way is, by definition, a transphobe who must be denied a platform. Further, those who give them a platform are themselves being transphobic.
Palethorpe also bemoans the hyperbole with which many trans-sceptics festoon their responses to the current transgender orthodoxy – depicting them as falling into the “massive attack on women’s rights … foretelling the end of western civilization as we know it” type of arguments.
I have some sympathy but by lumping ALL questioning of transgender ideology or praxis into the category of transphobic hate speech that must be suppressed, Palethorpe is indulging himself in the sort of hyperbolic over-reach which has the effect of denying the validity of any and all women’s concerns, however well-researched, well-argued, and well-intentioned.
I have every sympathy with people who find themselves the subject of the fevered rantings of talk back radio but frankly not only is the Government wholly and unequivocally supportive of the current transgender orthodoxy, the media is almost all uncritically supportive, every political party is either fully supportive or is sitting on the fence, every government department, trade union and professional association, NGO, and large business is also firmly on message.
In light of the enormous investment of political capital and support represented by all the above, is it any wonder some people think the bits of the media that are not 100% on message are pretty insignificant and not deserving of this sort of coverage by RNZ?
If there is a growing wave of trans-scepticism that is merging with actual transphobia, I am at a loss to explain the tactics of many trans activists which serve to widen divisions with natural allies. Some focus on so-called TERFs with a level of fervour that comes close to zealotry. For people allegedly on the political left and supposedly aware of the manifold and manifest inequalities and injustices scarring the planet – many trans activists and allies remain stubbornly mired in a highly negative and almost obsessive focus on radical feminists and lesbians.
Although the intransigence and hyperbole that serves to obscure both important discussion and common ground now does come from both sides, it is still generated much more from supporters of the transgender orthodoxy. Most of the thoughtful gender critical feminists in the UK immediately and unequivocally condemned Lily Cade, but there is never any equivalent distancing of trans activists or allies from the persistent calls on social media for anyone deemed to be a “TERF” to be sexually assaulted and/or murdered – by people purporting to be trans or trans allies. On the contrary – those misogynistic extremists are routinely excused as having been provoked by the terrible TERFS.
There can be no doubt that there are reasons for us all to be concerned about the groundswell of ultra-conservatism worldwide. Social conservatives may be pulled/pushed to the political right in times of extreme social disequilibrium.
There is also a rising tide of various stripes of ultra-rightwing political movements. The two are not synonymous, but if they converge, they pose a massive threat and not just to trans people.
Trans activists may have elbowed their way centre-stage in the anglophone world, but they are not the sole, or even the primary target. The backlash, if we allow it to happen, will sweep away far more than the issue of changing a sex marker on a birth certificate.
Erratum: The reference to a complaint made to the media council by SUFW is incorrect; a complaint was made by an individual.
- The ability for a person to change the sex marker on their birth certificate by simply swearing a statutory declaration which is the last stage of a process of policy and regulatory changes made without public oversight or input, to allow trans people to change the sex markers on all other official identity documents.
- The offending sentence was: “SUFW has denied being anti-trans, but it maintains that trans women are not women, a distinctly anti trans sentiment.”
- The advert is a meme made by the UK group, Standing for Women, and is literally just the dictionary definition of woman. It has been deemed to be a form of “coded transphobia.”
- It is the sex marker which is being changed and Peacock inadvertently illustrates one of the problems that were signalled by the intelligent critics of both Bills.
- “Yeah, and also, it’s this idea that gender identity clinics, sexual health clinics are sort of handing out hormones and puberty blockers like smarties at Halloween. In actual fact the process for getting medical support as a transgender person is actually quite complicated and the criteria is quite rigorous but there’s never any real discussion about what that’s actually like and into that gap you have as I said you know you had an American GP who’s not an expert to provide an opposing view to Otago University’s sort of Head of Paediatrics, someone who is not qualified to talk about it and you presented it as being of equal weight and their response was just, we have an obligation to present an opposing view and it’s like, do you?” From Media Watch podcast https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/mediawatch/audio/2018819466/avoiding-the-mistakes-of-the-past-in-trans-rights-coverage
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Great piece – full of good observations and facts. Just one error, though – SUFW didn’t make the complaint to the Media Council against Newshub. That complaint was made by someone entirely independent of SUFW. It was great for SUFW to have someone go into bat for them like that, but the complaint didn’t originate from them.
You have to wonder, given only trans people can speak about trans issues, how the recent statements by Doctors Bowers and Anderson of WPATH questioning the use of puberty blockers and cross sex hormones in young people, will be slapped down?
‘ Two leading transgender medics warn children should not be given puberty blockers, that too many are being given gender reassignment surgery and reveal NYT turned down their op-ed on the subject ’
Perhaps RNZ will read this 🤷♀️
Great summary of a disappointing response by Media Watch. It has been years since Radio New Zealand has had balance on this. On two recent occasions projects have received special funding to advocate the trans activist agenda and one one occasion they have used special funding specifically to attack Speak Up For Women. Rather than balance we have “all right thinking people believe”. Not a good look for a national broadcaster.