Go Q Radio said it was “sad” and “embarrassed” to say its standards had not been maintained following a comment made on The Q Breakfast Show which is networked across the Q network and is presented by Stephen Clements and Cate Conway.
On 9 November 2017, the presenters discussed a news story about the decision by Topshop to introduce gender neutral changing rooms. Stephen Clements explained that the decision was prompted by a complaint from a person who identified as trans feminine1 and who had been asked by a member of staff to go to the Topman changing rooms to try on a selection of dresses.
Ofcom received a complaint that, during the discussion, Stephen Clements made an offensive comment.
Following the on air discussion Ofcom considered the material raised potential issues under the following rule of the Code:
Rule 2.3: In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context (see meaning of
“context” below). Such material may include, but is not limited to, …humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, and marriage and civil partnership).
Ofcom sought comments from the Licensee ‘Northern Media Group Limited’ on how the content complied with this rule.
The Licensee said that Stephen Clements’ comments did not comply with Rule 2.3 of the Code and this was a “great disappointment”.
It said that the station had always respected its listeners regardless of their sexual orientation, gender or faith and had received the Media Award from the Belfast based GNI Mag, which honours organisations that have made a positive contribution to the LGBT community, and two nominations from The Belfast Pride Awards.
Go Q Radio went on to say that it was “sad” and “embarrassed” to say its standards had not been maintained. Indeed, it said that the comments by Stephen Clements were “insensitive and offensive” and went against all that the service stood for. The Licensee also said that Stephen Clements “deeply regretted his ignorance and the offence he had caused” and had apologised (and the Licensee provided to Ofcom a copy of a personal apology for this incident from the presenter). In addition, the Licensee said that a meeting for all staff, presenters and managers at the station with the Rainbow Project3 was now planned.
Further, a refresher course on the Code and its implications for all presenters had been scheduled.
The Licensee concluded that it was actively engaged in promoting tolerance for all in society and supported respect and equality for everyone. This incident had “brought home that there [was] no room for complacency” and it said that every effort would be made to ensure “that an incident like this is never repeated”.
The following was the response from OFCOM :
Reflecting our duties under the Communications Act 20034 , Section Two of the Code requires that generally accepted standards are applied so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of harmful or offensive material. Ofcom has taken account of the audience’s and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Ofcom must seek an appropriate balance between ensuring members of the public are adequately protected from material which may be considered offensive on one hand and the right to freedom of expression on the other. Under Rule 2.3, broadcasters must ensure that potentially offensive material is justified by context.
The Code makes clear that context is assessed by reference to a range of factors including the editorial content of the programme, the service in which the material is broadcast, the time of broadcast and the likely expectation of the audience.
We considered whether the comments made by Stephen Clements, in which he referred to the trans feminine person in the news story as: “him, her, him, it” as well as the comments he made about the suitability for children of gender neutral changing rooms were potentially offensive. Stephen Clements referred to a picture on social media of the person who complained about Topshop, as: “him, her, him, it”. By using the word “it”, he used a pronoun associated with objects rather than people, which had the potential to undermine a person who has a nonbinary gender identity. In our view, this comment also appeared insensitive to the publicly stated gender identity of a trans feminine person. We therefore considered his words had the effect of portraying a trans feminine person in a negative and derogatory way and this had the potential to be offensive.
We also considered that the likely level of offence would have been increased in this case by Stephen Clements’ further statement about the suitability of gender neutral changing rooms for children, specifically that he would not allow his six year-old daughter to change in a gender neutral changing room.
Cate Conway had explained to Stephen Clements that if a person was trans feminine they identified as a woman. Stephen Clements had asked whether this meant they were “still biologically male?”. Cate Conway confirmed she thought this was the case. Stephen Clements went on to say: “…But I wouldn’t be putting my – 100% nobody convinced me of anything different – that my six year-old daughter will be getting changed anywhere where a male biologically or non-biologically would be able to be in the same area as she gets undressed. Wouldn’t be happening”. In our view, while there was some ambiguity in Stephen Clements’ comments, this reference about the presenter’s daughter could have been understood by listeners as suggesting that the safety of a young child could be compromised if she was in a changing room with a trans person.
Ofcom considered this also had the potential to be offensive to the transgender community.
Ofcom then considered whether the broadcast of these comments was justified by the context.
The comments were broadcast during the breakfast programme which features music, competitions and light-hearted conversation on the news stories of the day.
Therefore, Ofcom acknowledged that listeners would have expected the presenters to express their personal views on a range of current issues in the media. However, while discussing the story about gender neutral changing rooms, Stephen Clements used the words “him, her, him, it” to describe the trans feminine person who was the subject of the Topshop story.
We acknowledged that in the context of this live broadcast, Stephen Clements was struggling to describe the person, having not established the correct pronoun for the trans feminine person before talking about this story on-air. In addition, his comments about not allowing his six year-old daughter to get changed in gender neutral changing rooms aggravated the potential offence in this case by giving the impression to listeners that the safety of a young child could be compromised if she was in a changing room with a trans person. We considered that within the context of discussion, Stephen Clements displayed a lack of awareness of trans issues generally. He sought clarification from his co-presenter about what trans feminine meant (“Trans feminine. Is that what that means?”; “But still biologically a male?” and “This is a minefield isn’t it, a political correct minefield”). In our view, his comments in this discussion appeared to arise out of a lack of awareness and understanding of the offensive implications of his remarks. Given all the above, we therefore considered there was insufficient context to justify the offensive content in this case.
We took into account that Stephen Clements went on to apologise on air soon after for the comment in which he referred to the trans feminine person as “it”, and the presenters made clear that the comments had been offensive. We also took into account that the Licensee accepted that Stephen Clements’ comments were in breach of Rule 2.3, and told us it had taken a number of steps as a result of this broadcast including addressing the issue of gender awareness by organising specific training for all staff at the station and a refresher course on the Code to ensure such comments were not repeated.
In addition, Stephen Clements had also acknowledged and personally apologised for any offence he had caused. We therefore considered this matter resolved.