Most guidelines for reporting on transgender issues recommend journalists exclude details of transgender people’s previous names and lives. Australia’s News.com.au did not abide by those rules. However, since the Australian media is still learning how to report on transgender issues and the information was accurate and taken largely from the woman’s Facebook page, the Australian Press Council ruled that News.com.au didn’t break media standards.
In a news story earlier this year, News.com.au zeroed in on transgender woman Evie Amati, who was accused of an axe attack in Sydney, Australia. The story included details about her life five years earlier, pre-transition, as a man. Amati is currently awaiting trial on two charges of “intentionally causing grievous bodily harm” and one charge of “attempting to cause wounding with intent to murder.” The News.com.au story didn’t state what the relevance of Amati’s pre-transition life was to the axe attack in January.
At the time of the News.com.au article in January, iMediaEthics published a commentary arguing that the details of Amati’s life pre-transition were not relevant. iMediaEthics interviewed two transgender advocates for our January commentary, with UK charity Trans Media Watch’s Jennie Kermode explaining “we advise media outlets never to reveal a trans person’s former name without explicit permission” because of the fear of invasion of privacy. Australia’s Transgender Victoria executive director Sally Goldner said “[Amati’s] gender identity is of no apparent relevance to the story of the crime.”
The News.com.au article prompted a complaint to the Australian Press Council. The press council ultimately cleared the News.com.au article because all of the information was accurate and taken from the Amati’s public Facebook page, according to the May press council ruling.
The council, however, did note that Australian media is still learning how to report on transgender issues, writing:
“While the General Principles were not breached in this instance, the Council notes that the Australian community is in the early stages of understanding the appropriate approach to respectfully and intelligently reporting on transgender issues, and accordingly acknowledges the need for caution and sensitivity in reporting on such issues.”
News.com.au defended its report on Amati to the press council, noting the information was taken from public posts on Amati’s Facebook page and that its story was intended to be a profile of Amati as opposed to a hard news story on the attack. News.com.au pointed to its sources as her Facebook page, security footage of the crime scene, and bail court records.
Further, News.com.au claimed that its story wasn’t “gratuitous,” even though it included Amati’s name pre-transition, quotes from her Facebook page five years ago when she was pre-transition, photos of her pre-transition, and screenshots of her 2012 Facebook post about considering transitioning and her hormone replacement therapy.
News.com.au argued, “It was also reasonable to contrast the woman’s positive transition in 2012 with the crime for which she now stands accused.” iMediaEthics has written to News.com.au’s publisher, News Corp Australia, to ask what the relevance of her life pre-transition was, and why those details were included given guidance for reporting on transgender people advise against inclusion.
“There may have been more information in the article about her transgender status than other aspects of her life, but that reflected the greater amount of information available about that aspect,” the press council reported.
The press council ruled that the article was factual, didn’t link Amati’s transition to the attack, and wasn’t “derogatory” or “stereotypical.” The council also noted that the site published “some repeated references” to Amati’s pre-transition name and transition, information that transgender advocates state shouldn’t be included unless relevant.
The press council said that it was in the public interest to report that Amati sought hormone therapy drugs, a statement made in open court.