BAI complaint over JK Rowling ‘transphobia’ accusation upheld

Harry Potter author was referred to as a ‘bigot’ during segment of show on Today FM

Author JK Rowling. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Author JK Rowling. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

A programme on Today FM in which a contributor referred to author JK Rowling as a “transphobic bigot” breached rules regarding fairness, objectivity and impartiality, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has ruled.

A complaint was submitted in relation to a segment of the Last Word with Matt Cooper on September 18th.

It stated that during the weekly panel discussion, one of the contributors stated that Ms Rowling was transphobic, without providing any evidence to back this up.

The complainant claimed the statement was not challenged by the presenter or any of the other panellists. The complainant said that this was a very serious accusation, and that the segment lacked balance, impartiality or objectivity.

In response, the broadcaster stated that the specific story being discussed was a number of tweets made by the 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.

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”.

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

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

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

In its decision, the BAI said it had decided to uphold the complaint.

“The code requires that current affairs content is fair to all interests concerned and that the broadcast matter is presented in an objective and impartial manner and without any expression of the broadcaster’s own views,” it said.

“During this discussion, a panel member gave a brief overview of some events which are the basis for public accusations of transphobia,” it said. “The panel member also stated that JK Rowling has become a ‘transphobic bigot’.

“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 had regard for the fact that, in this instance, 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.

“The committee was 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.”