MEGAN EASTERBROOK-SMITH AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 2245

Council Meeting: MAY 2012

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Discrimination

Megan Easterbrook-Smith and Magdalen Harris complained about a column by Rosemary McLeod published in The Dominion Post on 23 February, 2012.

Both claimed that the column breached Principle 6 (Discrimination and Diversity) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles. Ms Harris also cited Principle 1 Accuracy fairness and balance.

Their complaints are not upheld.

Background
The column was headed “Why I feel for the kids of ego trippers” and included comments on an American transgender father, previously a female, who had given birth to his third child. The column also included discussion about an American male sperm donor, a “proud 36-year-old virgin” who fathered a number of children “via an age-old but usually uncelebrated manual art” and an English story about a man who has supposedly given birth.

It discussed what the columnist saw as people believing they would somehow live on through their amazingly gifted and beautiful descendants and publicising how they could have children despite living a life different from what the columnist saw as the norm.

The columnist felt that publicising the unusual circumstances of the parents’ lives could rebound against the children of these parents in the future.

The first word in the first paragraph of the column was “OPINION” and the column clearly expressed as the opinion of the writer.

The Complaints
The complainants believe that the column was transphobic and encouraged hatred towards, and discrimination against transgender people.

They believed that the use of he/she in relation to the transgender father deliberately ignored the father’s gender and was discriminatory. They also felt that the article mocked transgender people.

While the columnist had the right to hold such views they were not appropriate for paid publication in a newspaper. Profiting from such bigotry showed a lack of understanding of what transgendered people face, and saw their pain and anger as unimportant

The complainants believed that the newspaper should not have published the article and should apologise.

The Newspaper’s Response
The editor replied that the column was clearly identified as an opinion piece. She noted that there was no claim that Ms McLeod had made any factual error. Rather the disagreement was with her view of those facts.

The columnist did not denigrate transgendered people in general. The column commented on one transgendered person only who identified as a male giving birth, but also included other examples of different lifestyles.

While one complainant alleged that the columnist said that transgender people did not have the right to a family, this is not correct.

Others who disagreed with the columnist’s views were offered the opportunity to put their case at the same length as the columnist and had provided views which were also published.

Discussion and Decision
The preamble to the Press Council’s Statement of Principles states that “there is no more important principle in a democracy than freedom of expression” and also that “in dealing with complaints, the Council will give primary consideration to freedom of expression . . .”.

It is clear to anyone reading the article that it is an opinion piece and the column clearly identifies that it is the opinion of the columnist expressed in an article under her name.

The article was about the possible future impact on the children of people who lead lives that the columnist saw as different and used their lifestyle to gain publicity.

The newspaper did give those with opposing views the right of reply and published them.

The complaints are not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.

Clive Lind took no part in the consideration of this complaint.