The privacy of a woman named Evie Amati, who was accused in a recent violent attack at a 7-Eleven store in Sydney, Australia, was violated and exploited by News.com.au and Daily Mail. Instead of focusing on the alleged crime, the two outlets published stories that focused on Amati’s life several years ago before her transgender transition. The relevance of details from Amati’s previous life, such as her former name as a male and before-and-after photos of Amati apparently mined from old social media posts, was never indicated in the story. This left only the ugly perception of editorial sensationalism at Amati’s expense. Neither News.com.au or the Daily Mail responded to iMediaEthics’ inquiries for their justification in publishing.
Just a few months ago, UK press regulator IPSO released guidance for reporting on transgender issues, reminding journalists that being transgender is not, in itself, newsworthy and only should be included if it is relevant to the story. Further, IPSO advised against including “unnecessary information, such as irrelevant references to previous identities, publication of pictures of individuals pre-transition or references to medical details.”
Australia’s Transgender Victoria executive director Sally Goldner told iMediaEthics the articles were “totally sensationalist.”
“While obviously I don’t support violent crimes on innocent people, her gender identity is of no apparent relevance to the story of the crime,” Goldner commented. “I would question why trans is mentioned at all and add when do we see articles beginning ‘cisgender person, aged 24’?”
Goldner also raised questions about the decision to highlight Amati’s job and hobby. “I would also, as much as I don’t identify with these groups and don’t want to misuse privilege, question the relevance of mentioning her being a trade unionist and a punk drummer – is it trying to stereotype those 2 groups as well? I’ve never seen headlines beginning ‘self-employed business person and classical music drummer…'”
iMediaEthics contacted the Australian Press Council and UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation to see if they have received complaints over the stories. The Australian Press Council’s executive director John Pender told iMediaEthics it had received at least one complaint about each story. IPSO said it hadn’t received any as of yet. The Daily Mail subscribes to IPSO.
UK charity Trans Media Watch‘s Jennie Kermode noted that the Mail subscribes to the IPSO guidelines advising against “gratuitous mention of an individual’s trans status.” In an e-mail to iMediaEthics, Kermode commented that news outlets that feature someone’s trans status for no real purpose is “pure sensationalism and has no news value.”
“We advise media outlets never to reveal a trans person’s former name without explicit permission,” Kermode explained. “Even where permission has been granted, this often upsets other trans people because it makes them fear for their privacy.”
Kermode flagged that the media often accepts celebrity name changes but ignores or disrespects trans people by needlessly using former names. “We find it odd that there is so much media focus on the ‘real names’ of trans people when celebrity name changes like Jodie Foster’s or Cary Grant’s are ignored in most articles about them and are not seen as having greater weight than their chosen names,” Kermode told iMediaEthics. “Nothing meaningful is revealed by telling people a trans person’s former name when the fact that they are trans has already been stated, but trans people who have experienced this (often referring to it as ‘deadnaming’) feel that it adds an element of humiliation.”
Further, Kermode pointed out that it was “inappropriate and reductive” for the Mail to use the word transgender as a noun. “We advise its use strictly as an adjective, so one might say ‘transgender man’ or ‘transgender person’ (often shortened to ‘trans man’ or ‘trans person’),” Kermode explained. “This makes it clearer that being trans is just one aspect of who somebody is, not the whole of their being.”
Throughout our story, iMediaEthics will be redacting Evie’s former name as it is no longer how she identifies and is not relevant in any apparent way. By way of contrast, the Sydney Morning Herald published a story about Amati’s court appearance that didn’t include any details of her transition or sensationalize her.
What the Outlets Did:
The Daily Mail‘s article was headlined: “Transgender woman, 24, accused of bludgeoning two innocent people with an axe at a 7-Eleven was born as a boy named [redacted] – but had a sex change two years ago in Thailand to become Evie.”
The first sentence of the article says “The woman accused of a terrifying axe attack in a 7-Eleven was a man named [redacted] until a sex change operation two years ago.”
The article includes details of where the operation was done, how long it lasted, pictures of Amati before and after her transition, screenshots of Amati’s 2012 social media posts about transitioning, information about her girlfriends, information about who went with her for the procedure, screenshots from her former girlfriend, two videos of the attack in the 7-Eleven, and the hormone drugs she is taking. The Mail had the gall to note that Amati “deleted all the photos of herself” pre-transition but still decided to track some down and publish them along with descriptions of Amati’s appearance before her transition.
News.com.au’s story, which wasn’t bylined, was slightly less bad than the Mail‘s. It was headlined “Woman accused of terrifying 7-Eleven axe attack is transgender unionist once known as [redacted].” Like the Mail, the article quoted from Amati’s Facebook account nearly five years earlier, before she transitioned, and used her former name. It also used photos of her before her transition and quoted from her posts sharing her thoughts about transitioning. It included the names of the hormone drugs she is taking.
The Mail‘s Recent History
This is just the latest case where the Mail grabbed our attention with insensitive, inappropriate coverage. Just last month, we critiqued the Daily Mail Australia for its harmful story comparing a random disabled woman in South Carolina to a zombie, using side-by-side photos of her mugshot with still images from The Walking Dead. That same week, the Daily Mail Australia apologized after publishing a mean-spirited article about Australian TV host Samantha Armytage and her underwear, based on paparazzi photos.
Last month, the Mail Online apologized to a Muslim family after falsely calling them extremists linked to Al Qaeda. The Mail was also one of three UK outlets to falsely claim that a UK playground was being torn down because fat kids would get stuck in it (it was actually a safety inspection that led to the playground’s destruction). In November, the Mail unpublished long-lens photos of Princess Beatrice in a bikini on a yacht on vacation after she complained; the UK press regulator IPSO ruled the photographs were an invasion of privacy. And the Mail is currently fighting a libel lawsuit filed by Melania Trump over its now-retracted report alleging she worked as an escort.
Hat Tip: Alyce Hogg