Scientist Dr. Kate Stone was the victim of a horrible accident on New Year’s Eve when she was “gored in the neck” by a charging stag and put into a coma. But, in stories on the attack, six UK news outlets featured the fact that Stone is transgender, even though that has nothing to do with the attack.
Last week, the six outlets admitted they were wrong to report Stone is transgender, after Stone complained to the Press Complaints Commission.
But Stone wasn’t looking for an empty, forced apology from the outlets; she wanted the media outlets to understand how their reporting was wrong so they hopefully wouldn’t make the same mistakes and to bring public awareness about the issues involved.
“That was my goal, not to highlight that the complaints system was wrong or to try and change legislation,” Stone said to iMediaEthics. “I didn’t even want an apology, because it’s not worth very much unless it’s genuine.”
“I was faced with something that was very upsetting and intrusive into my privacy,” Stone told iMediaEthics. “What I did was think about how I could best use the system in the way it is to try to make awareness about the mistakes that were made and the kind of bullying that I saw, bullying as in name calling, to raise awareness about that.”
What the 6 Outlets Did Wrong
Stone founded UK printed electronics company Novalia, and is also known for her TED talk last year. She has been interviewed and featured in the media before for her work.
The Press Complaints Commission has specific guidelines for reporting on transgender people. It states:
“i) 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.
“ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.”
Despite that, some of the headlines in reporting on Stone’s attack were, according to the Press Gazette, “Deer spears sex-swap Kate” and “Sex-swap scientist gored by stag.”
Since the fact that Stone is transgender has nothing to do with the attack, the six outlets were in breach of the PCC’s guidance.
“Some of the reporting,” Stone told the UK Observer, was “horrendous” as news outlets published “deeply intrusive details about me” including her former name.
So Stone filed complaints against the six outlets. Below, see a list of the outlets in question and what Stone complained about.
- The Daily Record – discrimination
- The Daily Mirror – discrimination and accuracy
- The Sun – discrimination
- The Scottish Sun – discrimination
- The Daily Telegraph – discrimination
- The Daily Mail – discrimination
Sarah Lennox, who is a member of All About Trans helped Stone as a friend with her complaints to the PCC.
All About Trans, an organization that doesn’t campaign but works toward “encouraging greater understanding between media professionals and the transgender community,” “played no part in lodging the complaints,” Lennox told iMediaEthics.
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“The role played by AAT was in helping to raise awareness of the newspapers’ agreement that they had broken the Editor’s Code particularly in relation to new guidelines issued last year,” Lennox told iMediaEthics by e-mail.
All About Trans’ Sarah Lennox raised an interesting comparison in a press release sent to iMediaEthics.. “If Apple CEO, Tim Cook, were involved in a car accident tomorrow, you wouldn’t get headlines: ‘Homosexual CEO in Car Accident’ and you certainly wouldn’t get: ‘Pansy (or Faggot) CEO in Car Accident.”
The PCC resolved the six complaints without having to make a ruling against the newspapers, the Guardian‘s Roy Greenslade reported. That means that the news outlets accepted that they were wrong and took action to fix the problem, as opposed to having the PCC force them to publish a ruling against them.
Because of the resolution, the six news outlets edited their online stories to remove the reference to transgender.
The UK and Scottish Sun and the Daily Record also admitted it was “inappropriate” to refer to a “sex swap” in their stories. The Daily Mirror admitted that it shouldn’t have published Stone’s “previous name without her consent,” which the PCC called “an unjustified intrusion into her private life.”
What Stone Wanted
Stone explained to iMediaEthics that she wanted to approach the problem in a positive way and humanize the newspapers’ mistake by having the newspaper “genuinely understand how I felt.”
She wanted to “find the human in them, find some remorse.”
Stone filed the complaints with the hope of improving media reporting on transgender people.
“I went to the Press Complaints Commission not for money or an apology but because I want a clear line drawn so it doesn’t happen to anyone else ever again,” she explained to the UK Observer. “Many people who are transgender are terrified that if anything happens to them – as it did to me – they will be splashed all over the papers. One accident might mean that they lose their job, their family, their home, their colleagues.”
Stone said she wanted the newspapers to see how they were wrong and then for that to be publicized.
“Public opinion can be more persuasive than legislation,” Stone said to iMediaEthics. “I don’t know how to create and change legislation, but I know how to tell a story about who I am.”
Stone used what she does at work to help her with her complaints. “I used my experience with sheep and electrons to help move the newspapers around,” she said. “You can try to use force to move an object or you can try to understand the environment and try to manipulate the environment and things will…move a little more toward” what you want.
Besides the problems with the newspaper, Stone has been recovering from the attack. “I’m doing well,” she said. “It’s like a miracle.”
“I didn’t file my complaints for two months because I wanted to take some time getting well,” she said. “I had to focus on my health.”