Watchdog upholds complaint over ‘transphobic’ comment about JK Rowling

Cate McCurry
·3-min read
JK Rowling (Yui Mok/PA)
JK Rowling (Yui Mok/PA)

Ireland’s broadcasting watchdog has ruled that a comment made on a radio show describing author JK Rowling as a “transphobic bigot” breached fairness regulations.

The Broadcasting Authority Ireland (BAI) upheld the complaint about a panellist on Today FM on September 18 last year.

It ruled that the comments were not fair and were not challenged by the presenter.

The complaint centred on the comment that JK Rowling was transphobic without providing “any evidence to this back this up”.

The complainant said the statement was not challenged by the presenter or any of the other panellists.

The complainant said it was is a very serious accusation, adding that the segment lacked balance, impartiality or objectivity.

In its response, the broadcaster said that the specific story being discussed was a number of tweets made by Irish singers Jedward, in which they criticised several celebrities for comments they had made about Covid-19 and the wearing of masks.

The panel also mentioned that Jedward had tweeted about JK Rowling, specifically her comments regarding transgender people.

It was in this context that the discussion regarding JK Rowling occurred.

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The broadcaster cited Unesco as defining transphobia as “the irrational aversion, anxiety, discomfort or hatred of people because they are or are perceived to be transgender”.

The broadcaster said that the panellist was of the opinion that JK Rowling exhibits some of the characteristics of transphobia, such as anxiety and discomfort.

The broadcaster said the panellist is entitled to this opinion and is entitled to express it on a part of the programme that requires guests to have a view on the topics being discussed.

The broadcaster also said that had there been an item solely on the transgender debate, it would have included guests to represent both sides of the argument.

However, JK Rowling was one of several topics discussed by the panel, it added.

Furthermore, the broadcaster claimed this was not a news or a current affairs piece, rather a “lively miscellany” in which opinions are encouraged.

BAI said that having considered the broadcast and the submissions from the complainant and the broadcaster and having had regard to the relevant legislation and code, the committee upheld the complaint.

BAI said that while the principle of fairness does not require that all possible opinions on a topic are explored, or that artificial balance is achieved, the committee noted that the nature of current affairs coverage is such that the presenter plays a critical role in challenging the views of guests and contributors, in the public interest.

The committee said the presenter did not challenge the panel member or facilitate the exploration of alternative viewpoints.

“The principle of fairness requires that the approach to covering issues should be equitable and proportionate,” BAI said.

“The Committee were of the view that, given the seriousness of the statements made by the panel member, and the lack of challenge by the presenter, the broadcast was not fair.

“As such, the Committee upheld this complaint.”

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