The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by four articles published by Daily Mail Australia concerning gender affirming healthcare.
The articles were: “Young Woman Left Devastated after she transitioned to a man and had her breasts, uterus and ovaries removed sues psychiatrist for approving hormone therapy after meeting him ONCE ”, 24 August 2022; “Call for urgent inquiry into irreversible gender changes as woman sues psychiatrist after he approved her hormone therapy to transition into a man after a single appointment leaving her unable to get pregnant”, 25 August 2022; “Australians share their stories of regret after transitioning to a different gender amid calls for urgent inquiry into irreversible sex changes”, 26 August 2022 and “Australian TV host loses it at a doctor who's helping teenagers change their genders: 'Causing irreversible damage to children should be banned'”, 5 September 2022.
The first article reported on the content of a NSW Supreme Court Statement of Claim which said that “A woman who transitioned to a man is suing her psychiatrist for professional negligence after he approved her hormone therapy despite only seeing her for a single appointment”. The article reported that the woman “says her social phobia should have been treated before any hormone therapy and that she wasn’t given any information on how transition would affect her fertility” and that the “surgeries have left her suffering with ‘injuries and disabilities’.”
The second article, reporting on the same court documents concerning the same woman, included comments from former Liberal Party candidate Katherine Deves who said: “‘Those left harmed by these irreversible hormonal interventions and surgeries that cause a myriad of lifelong health problems were always likely to seek legal remedy and compensation. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Australian children and young people being subjected to these interventions.’” The article went on to include a comment from a prominent Australian actress and LGBTI advocate who was critical of Ms Deves' views.
The third article reported the comments of an individual’s personal experience with gender transition who said he “… only identified as a transgender woman for a few months before he sat down with a psychiatrist, a requirement before commencing hormone therapy.” The article went on to say the individual: “… claims the professional failed to understand he was depressed, anxious and had a ‘f*****-up relationship with [his] sexuality’.” The article went on to quote the individual saying: “'I think there is a massive population of people who actually don't have gender dysphoria who are now either being pushed toward or themselves being drawn toward this gender affirmative care pathway.'” The article also reported on the same court documents repeating the same woman’s concerns as set out in the first and second articles.
The fourth article reported that “A social media post of a teenager happily showing off the scars of breast removal beside her smiling mother has sparked outrage from a conservative commentator”. It reported that the social media post “… is a picture of someone transitioning from female to male after a double mastectomy performed by Dr Gallagher, who is based in Miami, Florida and promotes herself as a ‘leader in the field of gender affirmation surgery’.” The article went onto report that the conservative commentator “…has previously criticised the practice of giving children trans surgery, including praising Florida Republican politician Randy Fine for moving to ban providing 'gender assignment' drugs or surgery to minors” and “'Good. Causing irreversible damage to children should be banned'”. The article also included comments from an individual who is quoted as saying “It's transphobic to say it but after I've been through the system, I 100 percent feel like I was part of some cruel medical and social experiment - except nobody checked in on me.” The article also included comments from those critical of the views expressed by the conservative commentator.
In response to complaints received, the Council asked the publication to comment on whether the articles complied with the Council’s Standards of Practice which require publications to take reasonable steps to present factual material with reasonable fairness and balance. The Council noted that the complaints raised concerns in regard to the absence of balancing comments in a series of news articles published over a period of time from individuals or organisations who are supportive gender affirming healthcare.
In response, the publication said in relation to the first article, that it is a report on a Statement of Claim provided to it by the law firm acting on behalf of the named woman. The publication said it had sought comment from the psychiatrist named in the Statement of Claim. The publication said as it had made reasonable attempts to contact the individuals involved, it saw no need to contact any other individual or organisation that was not named in the court proceedings. In relation to the second article, the publication said it included a comment from an individual criticising Ms Deves’ views. It also said that after receiving the Press Council complaint it amended the article to include a position statement from the Australian Professional Association for Trans Health (AusPATH). In relation to the third article, the publication said it had also subsequently amended the article to include the same position statement from AusPATH. In relation to the fourth article, the publication said it reported on the comments of a conservative commentator concerning a social media post. The publication said for balance, it included quotes, both positive and negative, in relation to the public reaction to the commentor’s tweet and also included a quote taken from the website of the doctor who performed the surgery, concerning the effects on a person’s mental health if they wait for an extended period of time before they start the transitioning process.
In relation to the article published on 24 August 2022, the Council acknowledges that the article is based on court documents and recognises the publication’s attempts to contact the individuals involved in the proceedings. In relation the article published on 5 September 2022, the Council notes that the article is based on social media commentary, and that it includes comments, both positive and negative, on the views expressed in a tweet by the conservative commentator. The Council also notes the inclusion of comments concerning gender affirming health taken from the doctor’s website who was the subject of the tweet. Accordingly, the Council concludes that the publication did not breach General Principle 3 in relation to these two articles.
In relation to the articles published on 25 and 26 August 2022, the Council notes an absence of comments from individuals or organisations that offer a different perspective than those put forward by Katherine Deves in particular on gender affirming healthcare and the experience of the individual referred to in the court documents. Although the Council recognises the subsequent amendment to the articles to include a position statement from AusPath, this in itself is not sufficient to address the absence of balance. Accordingly, in relation to these two articles, the Council finds the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that factual material was presented with reasonable fairness and balance in breach of General Principle 3.
The Council recognises that it has previously stated that reporting on a subject does not always require complete, or almost complete balance. In some instances, the requisite balance might be achieved through the previous or subsequent publication of articles that put forward alternative views on a subject. However, the Council considers that when reporting on matters of important social debate such as gender affirming healthcare, publications should be especially mindful of informing its readers that there are a range of perspectives on matters of strong public interest. In this instance, the Council notes that the four articles approached the issue of gender affirming healthcare from a particular perspective. The Council also notes that no additional articles were provided by the publication that offered an alternative perspective on the issue. Although the Council recognises that the subsequent amendment to two articles achieved some balance, it considers that some attempt should have been made at the time to publish a range of views on the issue either in the individual articles or through the prior or subsequent publication of additional articles.
In considering the series of articles, the Council finds the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure its reporting on the issue of gender affirming healthcare was presented with reasonable fairness and balance in breach of General Principle 3.
Relevant Council Standards
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council:
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
- Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.