This is one woman's account of how her life was turned upside down by sensationalist media coverage. It illustrates the lasting damage that can be done by newspaper stories.
My experience of the media was via a few articles that appeared in The Sunday Life, a newspaper in Northern Ireland. The article questioned my suitability as a counsellor for a rape crisis charity. I had been working for the charity for over four years and previously worked as a volunteer for a rape crisis centre in England for nearly ten years, also serving on the management committee, none of which was mentioned in the article.
The whole article was about me being transsexual. There was no mention of the male counsellors who worked at the same place as this was never an issue for the paper. The article was designed to provoke prejudice. It tried to link me to a well publicised child sex ring, trying to invoke outrage in the reader, and interviewed an ex-partner who implied the ‘strangeness’ of what I was.
It was the paper that decided to run with the terminology ‘tranny’, ‘burly’, ‘high heels’, etc., making me out to be some sort of freak. Not once did the paper try to do a balanced article, investigating the story to see what were facts and what was someone's attempt to discredit me.
The paper admitted its mistakes when I complained to the PCC. However, not once did the paper apologise for these mistakes, despite offering to in letters to the PCC - in my opinion it only made this offer to try and placate the PCC.
The paper printed photos of me, pre-transition, which served no purpose to the article except to further try and out me. All the time I lived in Northern Ireland, I had never been known by my previous name, using my middle name as soon as I moved over there, yet the paper had no hesitation in disclosing this. For what reason? To add to the humiliation.
The article that appeared on the paper's website allowed for comments to be made. There were 28 comments, one of which was neutral, one of which was negative (this comment referred to things that were not published and could only have been from the originator of the article). The other 26 comments were sympathetic to me. The paper later removed them, also removing the comment function from the article. This seemed a cynical move by the paper to manipulate what its readers thought, not allowing anyone to read an alternative opinion.
As a consequence of this article and subsequent ones, I have found my professional career nearly destroyed, and I can no longer work as a counsellor. Although I am open about what I am (all my clients when I worked at the charity were informed before they saw me, and were given the option to see me or not), my family still struggle with it, and this article gave them unwanted publicity.
With freedom of the press comes a duty of responsibility. The press cannot have it both ways, which at present it does. I have no legal redress to what was printed as I cannot afford a solicitor's legal fees. A paper can print what it wants and, as the PCC is not what I would class as an independent body, the press can and does get away with destroying people's lives.
© 2010 Keira McCormack