(Photo credit: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Why does Ofcom pander to the lunatic fringes of transgender activism?

Rather than reflecting the opinions of the people, under Ofcom’s new code televised media risks becoming a tool to enforce conformity

There is a new weapon in the arsenal of the woke crusaders: the updated Ofcom code. Seemingly lost in the din of New Year fireworks, on 31 December 2020 Ofcom widened the definition of hate speech in its code to include intolerance of gender reassignment and “political or any other opinion”. Underscoring this change is a revision to the Audiovisual Media Services Regulation 2020 (AVMS), part of an EU Directive implemented through new provisions in existing UK legislation.

The UK regulator Ofcom has chosen to interpret their new responsibility with righteous fervour. Previously broadcasters had to ensure that their programmes did not contain any incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality. The updated code has been expanded to include a veritable smorgasbord of identity characteristics including: “disability, ethnicity, social origin, sex, gender, gender reassignment, nationality, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, colour, genetic features, language, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth or age.” We can all agree “hate” is an unpleasant emotion, but it is surely not up to a media regulator to seek to censor political opinion which some might find hateful, or indeed, sinful.

The transgender lobby is powerful enough to set the broadcast media narrative about what are deemed tolerable opinions

Ofcom pay an annual fee to the UK’s largest LGBT lobby group Stonewall to retain membership of their Diversity Champions scheme. Peer underneath Stonewall’s feel-good slogan of “acceptance without exception” and it becomes clear that they are at the lunatic fringes of transgender activism. To Stonewall, a 6’ 3”, 20-stone rugby playing male who self-identifies as girl called Trixiebell should be welcomed to play on the women’s team. Trixiebell’s right to be treated as his chosen gender is paramount, and those who raise concerns about the safety of other players are simply out-of-touch bigots. According to the new Ofcom code, it could be deemed “hate” to even report on Trixiebell’s male sex, or to give voice to those who object to the inclusion of men in women’s sport as this risks promoting a “hateful opinion”. The question must be asked, is it right that a regulator that is supposed to be neutral is paying money to a partisan lobby group? This could be posed more widely; 750 of the UK’s leading institutions are paid-up members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme.

Ofcom has been keen to reassure those concerned about a chilling effect on speech that “freedom of expression in relation to political matters and content that is in the public interest is central to Ofcom’s application of the code”. Nonetheless, the new code comes just two weeks after a Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) committee hearing where Ofcom head Melanie Dawes appeared to suggest that on-air debates around transgender ideology were being skewed by the apparent requirement for balance. As an aside, the DCMS are also Stonewall Diversity Champions, as is the House of Commons where the discussion was based.

During the committee hearing SNP MP John Nicolson argued that the BBC: “seems to be under the impression that it needs to ‘balance’ all its reports on trans issues with comments from transphobic groups such as the so-called LGB Alliance.” He continued by arguing that giving a platform to the LGB Alliance was comparable with inviting racists to speak on matters of race. The LGB Alliance was founded in 2019 to advocate for lesbian, gay and bisexual people who believe “current gender ideologies are pseudo-scientific and present a threat to people whose sexual orientation is towards the same sex.” In response to Nicholson’s assertion that the LGB Alliance were hateful and ought not to be platformed, Dawes stated “I can only agree with you… I’m just so glad that things have moved on.”

Things have “moved on” but not necessarily in the right direction, and Dawes ought to remember that broadcasters and indeed those who regulate them have a responsibility to offer a plurality of opinion on live political matters. As Kate Harris, a spokesperson for the LGB Alliance told me:

It is a worrying development that Stonewall Diversity Champions appear to be scrambling to extend the coverage of what is termed “hate speech”. Is there a link between Stonewall’s stated insistence that there is to be “no debate” on matters of sex and gender and the growing compulsion towards making any disagreement with “gender identity theory” illegal?

The interrogation of beliefs without judgement of those who hold them is essential to a functioning democracy

Ahead of the release of the revised code, Ofcom produced a short video with three people who identified as transgender. There was general agreement from the interviewees that coverage of transgenderism was too stereotypical, with one interviewee claiming it is “an area of the LGBTQ community that we don’t see at all”. The voices of those who believe women’s rights are at risk from the inclusion of men who identify as women, the experiences of those who have “detransitioned” and people who view transgenderism as a woke form of “gay conversion therapy” were not considered.

Despite claiming to be a marginalised minority the transgender lobby is powerful enough to set the broadcast media narrative about what are deemed tolerable opinions, and what is considered hateful in a democratic society. That this has been implemented through an EU Directive (passed during the UK-EU transition period), new provisions in UK legislation and the updated Ofcom code belies the claims of activists that their concerns are overlooked. This new orthodoxy of offence and acceptable doctrine would not be out of place in the Islamic republic of Iran.

Ofcom won’t have much work to do in ensuring that those who fall within their purview toe the woke line: the BBC, Advertising Standards Authority, Channel 4 television, ITV, Viacom and Sky are already paid-up members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme.

Viewpoints and identities are personal, but the interrogation of beliefs without judgement of those who hold them is not only desirable, it is an essential to a functioning democracy. Whether someone considers themselves transgender or identifies as a practising Christian, it is not “hate” to question their opinions and we ought not to be compelled to share their faith for fear of causing offence. Rather than reflecting the opinions of the people, under Ofcom’s new code televised media risks becoming a tool to enforce conformity.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5

Subscribe
Critic magazine cover