Guidelines

Last month the Australian Press Council issued “guidelines for reporting on people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.”

The Australian Press Council today released an Advisory Guideline for editors and journalists – Reporting on persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

The Advisory Guideline is the culmination of 12 months’ research and community consultation by the Press Council with editors, journalists, peak community and health organisations, mental health specialists, people with lived experience, police and academics. The process included roundtables in Sydney and Melbourne, as well a number of individual consultations with stakeholders.

Golly, they consulted people with lived experience. So that would be…everybody? They consulted with everybody? Impressively thorough.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the media are essential to democracy and central to keeping the community well informed and able to deal with complex social issues. With these freedoms come important responsibilities for the media. The Press Council’s General Principles, which all publisher members are obliged to comply with, reflect an appropriate balance, acknowledging the importance of reporting and expression of opinion in the public interest.

From time to time the Press Council develops Advisory Guidelines in particular areas to inform the operation of the General Principles and as a resource for journalists and publications.

This Advisory Guideline for reporting on people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics is intended to help publishers and journalists report on people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics and the issues which affect them, with appropriate consideration of a range of sometimes sensitive factors. The Press Council also aims to promote the understanding that unfair or inaccurate reporting about these individuals can have serious adverse mental health outcomes for them.

But that’s not a threat at all. No no. We’re just saying that if you do it wrong you might cause serious adverse mental health outcomes for tragically vulnerable people. No pressure.

The Advisory Guideline is not binding on the Press Council’s constituent members, but it provides guidance for:

• Reporters interviewing people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and/or sex characteristics

• Publications

• Press Council adjudication panel members and staff

Let’s take a look at The Guidance:

On page 4:

Accurate reporting is essential to dispel misconceptions, for example the misconception that intersex persons are necessarily transgender, non-binary identified, queer or same–sex attracted.

In journalistic terms…what exactly does “queer” mean? If you’re a journalist keen to be accurate, how do you know who is “queer” and who isn’t, and what that means? How do you know how to find out, and how to verify or unverify?

Publications must take reasonable steps to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is in sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6). In this regard, publications are advised to:

• refrain from using derogatory or prejudicial language, examples of which are included in some reports at Attachment 1

• avoid using the wrong pronouns, noting that media usage of wrong pronouns can be distressing and disempowering

In journalistic terms…what exactly are “the wrong pronouns”? If you’re a journalist keen to be accurate, how do you know which pronouns are the “wrong” ones and which are not? How do you know how to check? Is it insulting to ask? Should you ask everyone you interview?

• allow persons to state how they identify and, in the case of trans and gender diverse persons, ask them by which name they would like to be referred

What does that mean, “allow persons to state how they identify”? Does it mean ask them? Or does it mean don’t say “No you’re not” if they do? If it does mean ask them, is a journalist supposed to ask everyone that question? If so, how are they supposed to deal with the likely irritation or worse that will ensue? (Note my impressive use of the gender-neutral “they” there. We don’t know what sex this hypothetical journalist is so I called it “they.” It’s possible that I forgot I’d started with a singular journalist rather than plural journalists, but let’s pretend I did it on woke purpose, and be duly admiring.)

• not place unwarranted emphasis on sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics

Wait wait wait waity wait – do what? Not place unwarranted emphasis on sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics at the same time as asking all and sundry how they “identify” and if they are “queer”? How does that work, exactly?

• refrain from reporting salacious details of a person’s body, for example in the reporting on intersex women in sport or in reporting on a trans or gender diverse person’s transition or how they have affirmed their gender

Ho yus, and also don’t report on “salacious” details like how massive “Rachel” McKinnon is compared to the women he competes against, or how massive Hannah Mouncey is, or how massive Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller are, or how massive Laurel Hubbard is. That’s very salacious and naughty and we see you slobbering as you do it. You’re fired.

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